Who would have thought ten years ago that cellphones would help to save lives! This is exactly what happened in Africa where people are using cell phones to remind themselves to pick up a fresh batch of anti-AIDS drugs. In order to boost health by targeting the continent's 624 million mobile phone subscribers, some African countries are using cell phones to send a health-related text message to the clients or to call for health related emergencies. The free texts from South Africa's largest HIV treatment site are an example of this. The txtAlert reminder costs only 14 US cents per patient per month making it the cheapest technology there, and about 10,000 people have already subscribed for this system. As a result, missed appointments at the centre fell from 15% in mid-2007 to just 4% today.
In West Africa, 2,200 doctors in Ghana and 143 doctors in Liberia have signed on to anti-poverty group Africa Aid's MDNet network, allowing them to call or text other physicians for free. In Ghana, a national directory helps find the number to call. Already more than 2.5 million calls have been made so far on the network. Africa is poor in landlines and hospital beds but rich in cellphones. For this reason, from Rwanda to Uganda to Senegal, cell phones are now being used as a tool to solve many problems of daily life. While cell phones are being used for applications from quizzes promoting good behaviour in Uganda, they are being used to coordinate health workers in Senegal, and solve problems such as lack of specialists and specialized services in rural areas in Rwanda.
"I wish it could be duplicated in every African country. If only they could hook up every single health worker -- nurse, midwife -- onto the system," said Ghanaian paediatrician Frank Serebour. Seeing the massive positive impact of cell phones in Africa and how they can enrich peoples'lives, we wish that too.