I just returned from the GSM World Congress a couple weeks ago which is the annual trade gathering of the mobile phone industry. It’s an excellent place to glimpse what’s coming up next on the horizon. One topic gaining momentum fast is mHealth — mobile phone-based solutions to healthcare challenges. The GSM Association invited CGAP to talk about where mobile money fits in the mHealth universe. My presentation is here.
While most mHealth opportunities in developed countries tend to focus on reducing costs, mHealth in poor countries is often tackling the much more basic question of access. And deeply embedded in the question of access are a number of financial hurdles. mMoney might be well-placed to help. Basic payment functionality is often missing or incomplete in emerging markets. By plugging the gaps, mobile money could help with some very basic issues, like reducing absenteeism from nurses and doctors traveling to pick up their pay. Or it could enable completely new opportunities, like telemedicine.
But perhaps most of all, many poor people forgo treatment altogether or severely ration it simply because they do not have insurance and find it hard to save up for emergencies. In Kenya, 85% of women want to give birth in a formal clinic, but only 44% do so. The number one reason cited by women is the difficulty of accumulating the US$ 40 needed to pay. In other words, poor access to financial services is a big part of why there is a healthcare access problem.
Thanks for all the comments. Some replies…
Kate: the total value flowing through M-PESA is indeed huge, but largely payments. Many of the unbanked Kenyan women you ask about lack access to quality saving mechanisms to build up to the fee required at public health clinics. For various business and regulatory reasons, M-PESA is not designed or marketed as a saving product, though there are some fascinating experiments in that direction (Mamakiba) and commercially launched products (e.g. M-Kesho via Equity).
Menekse and Peter are right that there are others writing on this topic. I actually cited Menekse’s WEF/mHealth Alliance report several times in the Barcelona ppt. It’s well worth a read for anyone interested in learning more.
Thanks for raising the profile of this very important yet under reported area of mobile development. There are already some really exciting developments that show the potential for mobile money in benefitting the health industry. I’d like to highlight a particular development in Tanzania which you and your readers may be interested in.
great post and presentation, Mark. your presentation has some interesting data in it, including that 20% of the Kenyan GDP was handled by M-PESA. But that fact – which would imply significant access, no? – seems to raise a question about the last paragraph of your post, where you tie the fact that fewer than half of Kenyan women who want to give birth in a clinic can do so to financial access.
Is it – in this specific case of whether pregnant Kenyan women can deliver where they want to – a question of financial access? (Are there figures that indicate who in Kenya is using M-PESA?) or is it more a question of funding/allocation of scarce resources?