Infectious diseases have wrecked continents, treatment-resistant superbugs are increasing, and social stigma inhibits treatment of crippling psychiatric conditions. At times, the state of international health might appear hopeless and worrying. But in reality, a variety of advances, from drug development to disease tracking, are helping people live longer at a scale that was formerly unthinkable.
In the past decade, one technology, in specific, has had an outsized impact on global health: the smart phone. By transforming the way we interact with each other, even the simplest cell phone has enabled epidemiologists to track disease outbreaks with higher accuracy than in the past. Understanding how a disease spreads and where it spreads out is crucial if scientists are to find a way to fight and, hopefully, beat it.
Smart phones do even more to improve global health. The hardware has democratized health technologies that used to be too costly or too physically far for many people to access. With smart phones, doctors can perform sophisticated medical tests or procedures without setting foot in a laboratory; patients can better comprehend their own health and control their info.
Here are 5 ways that smartphone or cell phones have had a fundamental impact on worldwide health.
In case of a medical emergency, dialing 911 is the most reliable way to get assistance in a rush in the US (it’s 999 in the UK). But for folks who live in rural areas, particularly in underdeveloped countries, rapid emergency care is far from a guarantee. The app ‘MUrgency‘ promises to streamline that procedure. Depending on the kind of emergency, it can link patients to ambulances faster, or even provide users with a qualified nurse to help them right at home.
The app is intended to compensate when governments cannot do the job. Depending on where you live in the United States, it can take between 6 and 35 minutes for an ambulance to show up in a medical emergency. MUrgency is designed to offer timely emergency care, whether a patient resides in a rural location or an urban city. This is only possible thanks to the ubiquity of smart phones.
The service was launched in 2016 in Punjab, India with a network of 36 hospital emergency rooms, over 40 ambulances and 350 physicians. It won 1st Prize in Health & Wearables at the 2016 SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas. Now, patients can access responder services in Punjab; those services are expected to become available in other cities such as Dubai by the end of 2018.
Screening for Pancreatic Cancer
In a research study of 70 individuals, the app had a success rate of about 90 percent, about the same precision as the blood tests that are the existing standard.
“The hope is that if people can do this simple test once a month — in the privacy of their own houses — some might catch the disease early enough to undergo treatment that could save their lives,” Alex Mariakakis, a doctoral student at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering told the University of Washington News.
Detecting Pathogens In The Blood
A single drop of blood is all it takes to check for dengue, Zika, and other infectious diseases.
The gadget itself (without the smart phone) is just the size of a visiting card. Grooves in the chip suck in small amounts of blood that are illuminated by the phone’s LED. A group of sensors analyze how light traves through the blood, which the system compares with the results of tests found to be positive. The whole procedure takes 10 minutes. “Labs-on-a-chip” are inexpensive and fast, and diagnostics can be performed in practically any environment.
The scientists hope their gadget can detect a lot more pathogens in the future. A similar lab-on-a-chip, developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy & Immunology in Leipzig, Germany, can identify E. coli and salmonella pathogens in the blood.
Similarly, scientists at Columbia University have developed a smart phone dongle that can identify syphilis and HIV in just 15 minutes “Coupling microfluidics with recent advances in electronics can make certain laboratory-based diagnostics accessible to almost any population with access to smart phones. This kind of capability can transform how health care services are delivered around the globe,” Samuel Sia, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University, stated in a 2015 article published on the university’s website.
Tracking the Spread of Disease
Epidemiology is a deceptively complex field. Researchers have to pinpoint the origin and reason for an outbreak, often as it continues to spread out. Collecting information can be difficult in rural areas; infrastructure (or lcack of it) can restrict communication. Even if researchers have a good understanding of the signs of the disease and the way it is transmitted to human beings, they might still have a hard time to keep track of those who are contaminated.
Mobile phones have changed that. Now scientists are able to track the malaria parasite across Kenya. By overlaying maps of the prevalence of malaria over call or text data that tracked individual callers’ movements, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have assisted authorities strategically deploy mosquito nets, control task forces, and medications in Nairobi and surrounding locations to prevent malaria from spreading out there.
Healthcare workers themselves communicate a lot more efficiently through short messaging services (SMS), according to a 2010 review. In South Africa, SMS allowed HIV-positive patients to notify or trace partners, track physician’s appointments, and utilize prevention methods.
It likewise helps medical professionals streamline their workload — physicians can now gain access to patient records directly on the app, or they can even call patients seamlessly. The patient can opt to either log in online, utilizing their email and password, or call their health care expert directly through the app.
As chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes become more widespread, smart phones allow physicians to remotely monitor patients’ health. Health care professionals can provide guidance based on information that the patient collects.