YOU IMAGINE: Mobile Health for Women

Written by on December 31, 2012 in Research & Technology - No comments

In my earlier comments about mobile health, the most remarkable changes taking place are simply to be putting such powerful devices in the hands of a great number of people. With this month’s focus on women’s health care, and as women own more than half the smartphones in the U.S.[1], I’d like to offer that perspective. Smartphones offer great promise and potential, only some of which may be fully realized.

Recently, it was the vision of young woman to reveal that power. Brittany Wenger, from Florida showed the world, when she won Google’s Science Fair.[2] Using three commercial cloud networks, Wenger combined their strengths at pattern detecting to develop a Java program. This program uses fine needle aspiration samples, which is a minimally invasive test that has not traditionally led to very accurate test results, diagnosing correctly 94% of the time, and identifying cancer types with 99% accuracy.[3] Find her tool at

In the developing world

While people like Brittany focus on the cutting edge, other mobile health efforts focus on basic health needs. Smartphones are not only changing how Americans use health, they are offering great promise in the world at large, applied differently in different regions. Twenty years after cell phones were invented, there were a billion in use.[4] Four years later there were two billion. Two years after that there were three billion. In 2012, 80% of the world’s population lives within range of a cellular network, which is double the level in 2000. There are more than 3.3 billion mobile phone subscriptions over the world. Most of these subscriptions are in the developing world.[5]

Some regions, struck by devastating infant hunger and infant death rates, are utilizing cell phones for communication to save lives. In other regions, sex workers are using cell phones to move more freely and independently. This has not always translated to health benefits, as this makes women more mobile and difficult to find.

In another effort, the Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation in Tanzania (CCBRT) is helping women who are suffering from fistulas. It is a fistula ambassadors’ network, intended to locate and help women with fistulas, which has been implemented throughout Tanzania. Charitable donations allow these women to benefit from free surgery. But even the travel costs are prohibitive. CCBRT uses a mobile banking system called Vodafone M-PESA[6] to send patients money for bus travel. The money is sent by SMS to fistula volunteer ambassadors whose job it is to identify and refer women who need the  treatment. Local Vodafone M-PESA agents send money to the volunteer, who buys bus tickets for the patient. Ambassadors receive some financial compensation when patients reach the hospital. In 2010, 54 ambassadors referred 129 women for fistula repair.[7]

India suffers some of the greatest child hunger rates in the world.[8] Sometimes the problem is simply that new mothers are not aware of the availability of resources for their infants. University of Sydney researchers are working to bring cell phones to rural women in Maharashtra State, Nagpur, in partnership with The South Asian Feeding Network. The women are kept in text communication as they care for their newborns.[9]

Available for your patients…

In my exploration of the apps loved by women, not just in developing regions, but in developed as well, I found that the apps generally fit into categories intended for women in specific stages of life. There are apps for girls who are experience their period for the first time. There are apps for women planning pregnancy. There are apps for women who are pregnant. And there are apps for women to proactively address breast cancer risks. And there are apps for women with cancer. The list goes on, but these were the major areas of development.

Perhaps the most general feature app for women to understand their health questions is the “52 Weeks for Women’s Health” app. It approaches women’s health from many different angles and is a way for women who want to practice good preventative health to explore questions.

[1] In U.S., Slightly More Women Than Men Are Using Smartphones
Brittany Wenger, 17, Wins Google Science Fair Grand Prize For Breast Cancer Diagnosis App The Huffington Post. By Dino Grandoni Posted: 07/25/2012.
How Teen’s App Can Diagnose Breast Cancer. By Sandy Fitzgerald. July 27, 2012.
Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty? By Sara Corbett. 2008.
European Travel Commission NewMedia TrendWatch. 06 November 2012.
Wikipedia article.
Mobile phones advance third world health care
World Hunger Index.
Sydney University researchers use mobile phone technology to tackle disease, malnutrition in India.

By Laura Maaske

Please read Laura’s article in Med Monthly for a complete list of apps for women’s health including prices.

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