Imperial College London

Global Health Forum: The Rise of Digital and Mobile Health

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IGHI’s February Global Health Forum brings together experts to discuss how digital and mobile technologies are helping transform healthcare globally.

The Institute of Global Health Innovation’s Global Health Forum highlights, discusses and disseminates findings on current research and innovation in global health. With a focus on digital and mobile health this month, the event was co-chaired by IGHI Visiting Professor, Professor Robert Istepanian and Dr Michael Short, CBE, Chief Scientific Advisor at the Department of International Trade.

Global growth

The world has witnessed an unprecedented rise in the number of people using mobile devices and digital technology. This has provided low- and middle-income countries with a novel way of improving their healthcare and health systems.

This opportunity was highlighted by Professor Istepanian and Professor Bryan Woodward, Emeritus Professor of Engineering from Loughborough University, who kicked off the Forum. They set the scene by showcasing two early initiatives that exploited mobile technology to solve healthcare issues in developing countries.

Established in 2006, the UK-India Education and Research Initiative ran a project to remotely monitor patients with heart disease and diabetes in India using mobile devices. This demonstrated the possibility of using mobiles to track diseases and gather health data from afar. While  in Iraq, the Development Partnerships in Higher Education helped develop a text messaging service to raise awareness about the risk of diabetes among pregnant women. They found this cheap intervention led to an uptake in the number of women visiting maternity clinics, highlighting the power of the simple SMS.  

Connecting better 

Showing attendees the breadth of impact that digital and mobile technology is having around the world, Dr Short offered his insights into the future. He believes that up and coming 5G networks show the potential to become the “most inclusive technology on the planet”. Once established, these could have far-reaching implications for healthcare, from feeding into telesurgery to providing a “bigger toolkit for clinicians”.  

The Forum moved on to more specific applications of mobile technology with a presentation from Dr Michael R. Thomas, a Research Associate based at Imperial’s Department of Materials. He shared findings from his project on how mobile technology could transform rapid diagnostic HIV testing in resource-limited settings. By developing tools that can automatically read and interpret test results, the tech could reduce human error while also helping educate staff. Dr Thomas described it as an “exciting space” for changing the way HIV testing takes place.

Before all six speakers took their seats for questions from the audience, IGHI Policy Fellow, Dr Natalia Kurek, and Manager of our NIHR Patient Safety Translational Research Centre, Dr Kelsey Flott, rounded off the presentations. They showcased their current work looking at the role digital innovation can play in improving the quality of healthcare in situations of extreme adversity, such as conflict. While navigating challenges such as leadership, violence and poor infrastructure in these environments can represent major barriers to implementation, they believe digital innovation poses many opportunities if harnessed correctly.

For more highlights and insights, watch the event on our YouTube channel here. IGHI’s next Global Health Forum will take place on 21 March and focuses on managing severe malnutrition. Find out more and register for your free ticket here


Reporter

Nikita Rathod

Nikita Rathod
Institute of Global Health Innovation