Mobile for health services no silver bullet, says researcher


Mobile health services are not the hoped for silver bullet to improved disease prevention and control in the Pacific says University of Auckland researcher Elaine Umali. <!--more-->Although promising and with potential, Ms Umali doesn’t believe they are a substitute for improvements in the health system, especially in low-resourced settings.

The Master of Public Health graduate has investigated the potential use of mobile phones as a health tool for disease prevention and control in the Pacific. Her research was supported by a Fred Hollows Foundation NZ scholarship.

Elaine is now writing her formal paper, but warns mHealth (mobile health services) is not the hoped for silver bullet. “If core health infrastructures are defective or lacking, investments in mHealth can’t be used to replace actual investments to improve health services,” she says.

Philippine born and educated, Ms Umali took up Global Health papers in the University’s School of Population Health, as course requirements for postgraduate studies in public health, under co-ordinator Dr Judith McCool.

“The rapid spread of mobile technology across the globe is making the medium very attractive in the development sector,” Ms Umali said. “And in the Pacific, there’s been a huge leap in the number of people with access to a mobile phone, providing a way for Pacific Islanders to change how they communicate, govern and implement activities.

“Looking at how mobile phones can be used for health in the region is something timely and useful,” she says. During her research Elaine undertook an analysis of key stakeholder perspectives on establishing mobile phone services in the Pacific region to support the prevention of trachoma by conducting interviews with key NGO and government representatives and mHealth experts across the Pacific, Asia, Africa and the United States.

She hopes the outcomes can be a useful tool to start debate around the use of mHealth in the region and enhancing local health systems.

Since 2012, the Fred Hollows Foundation NZ has funded research scholarships to support Master of Public Health students in the School of Population Health’s Global Health group. Students work in partnership with the Foundation and its Pacific Eye Institute in Suva.

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