Are new smartphone disease trackers missing a key target: women?


YAOUNDE, Feb 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The smartphone revolution has brought new ways of fighting infectious diseases in the developing world but women are missing out because they are much less likely to use phones.

A new study published in scientific journal Nature says smartphones offer novel ways to diagnose, track and control diseases and improve the effectiveness of healthcare systems.

“People increasingly use smartphones to manage their money and connect with the world,” the review’s lead author, professor Molly Stevens of Imperial College London, said in a statement.

“It makes sense that phones can also play an even larger role in healthcare than they already do.”

Mobile phones are used to detect microscopic parasitic infections, with the technology “rapidly approaching the standard of laboratory-based microscopes” – while also being cheaper, noted the review, published on Wednesday.

The smartphone microphone can even be used to map mosquitoes in a bid to stamp out malaria, one of the world’s deadliest diseases, which threatens nearly half of the world’s population according to the World Health Organization.

But the low usage of mobile phones by women in developing countries has curbed the impact of the new technologies, the review found.

“Even when they do use mobile phones, they are less likely to use it for services such as mobile internet that could improve their health,” it said.

A study by mobile communications industry body GSMA published earlier this month found that across low- and middle-income countries, 313 million fewer women than men use mobile internet, representing a gender gap of 23 per cent.

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Conrad Tankou, a doctor who became a social entrepreneur after seeing many health problems in rural parts of Cameroon, said that it is not common for women there to own mobile phones.

In 2013, he co-founded Gifted Mom, a text-messaging service and app which gives women in out-of-the-way rural communities free health advice, sending reminders about prenatal check-ups and children’s vaccinations.

“But it was really a great challenge at the start in rural areas because even though the service was free, you needed women to provide their phone numbers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in by phone from Bamenda in northwestern Cameroon.

“What we tried to do is educate women on the importance of actually using your phone properly. For those who didn’t have phones, we had to collect phone numbers of husbands or other family members living in the same house.”

Arielle Kitio Tsamo, founder of CAYSTI, an initiative that trains youth in technology around Central and West Africa, said her team works to encourage girls and women to use and invent new devices and apps with mobile technology.

“We are giving the girls the vision that technology is a tool,” she said. “Every human being should be able to use technology to take care of their health.” (Reporting by Inna Lazareva, Editing by Ros Russell . Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)



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