Good Governance is Key to mHealth Intervention Success

Rebecca Simon

Former Manager of Strategic Communications

The first Global mHealth Forum, part of the 6th Annual mHealth Summit, took place December 10-11, 2014, just outside Washington, DC. For the first time, those of us implementing mHealth interventions in developing countries had our own space to dive deeper into the successes and challenges of our work.

During the opening plenary, Dr. Patricia Mecheal, Senior mHealth Advisor at the UN Foundation and Principal at HealthEnabled, kicked off the Forum with an eye-popping statistic: there are more active mobile phones in the world than people. But, she cautioned the over 500 people present from more than 50 countries, “The real game changer is not the technology, but the people.” We can have powerful tools in the palm of our hands, but we must also continuously update content, monitor usage data, make constant adjustments, and foster an enabling environment via good governance to meet the needs of the people who can most benefit from these mobile tools.

The first session of the Forum, Government Plenary with a Focus on Scale, laid the foundation for the presentations throughout the day. The moderator, Mark Landry of WHO, drove home a poignant point, saying, “Committing to universal health coverage means committing to information and communication technology.” Dr. Alvin Marcelo, a leader of the Asia eHealth Informatics Network, mentioned that one mobile phone carrier in the Philippines recorded 2 billion text messages this year. It’s only logical, then, that health service delivery, management, and governance moves to a mobile platform, too, a point driven home by MSH’s Kyle Duarte, pointing out that “We are increasing access to health care with mobile technologies” in the mHealth Services: Localization for Success session.

But how can a health system implement mobile technology-based interventions that truly have impact? The short answer: good governance. Dr. Fatema Khatun, Assistant Scientist for Equity and Health Systems at the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B), pointed out that there are 19 mHealth initiatives in Bangladesh right now. Nineteen! Just one behavior change communication mHealth intervention requires quality content, accessible channels (voice versus SMS), and appropriate engagement (e.g., weekly phone calls, daily texts, etc.). A well governed health system can help ensure quality and accessibility of mHealth tools for the people who can most benefit from these types of interventions.

Effective mHealth interventions at any level of a health system need the four essential practices for good governance:

Employing these four essential practices can create the enabling environment necessary for mHealth interventions to thrive and show impact.

Following the conversation on Twitter (#GmHF14 and #mHealth14), Dykki Settle from IntraHealth quoted ecGroup’s Derek Ritz in the most important message of the day: “soon the m’s and e’s will go away, and health technologies will just be the way we deliver ‘health.’”