You Use Your Phone for Angry Birds; They Use It to Save Lives

There are reportedly about one billion people in the world who will never see a doctor, a nurse, or any other medical-care provider. It’s a sobering statistic and one that entrepreneur Josh Nesbit never really understood—until he visited a hospital in Malawi where a single doctor functioned as the solitary healthcare provider for almost a quarter of a million people.

On that medical research trip while a student at Stanford, Nesbit came face-to-face with a typical healthcare model found in developing countries—a lone hospital in a rural setting, which serves patients living up to 100 miles away, forcing them to walk or ox-cart that distance to receive treatment.

Volunteer community healthcare workers chaperone those treacherous journeys, but for obvious reasons, it’s an inefficient medical care system at best.

Witnessing that, Nesbit was inspired to start Medic Mobile. He tells TakePart, “Our mission here at Medic Mobile is to improve health in underserved communities, using mobile technology.”

His first initiative was to equip Malawi aid volunteers with cellphones and text-messaging training, creating a network that allowed them to communicate with each other, with patients and with the hospital.

Once they were hooked up, something astounding happened. “The hospital doubled the number of patients they were treating for tuberculosis,” Nesbit tells TakePart. “That’s because they were recognizing symptoms in these patients, providing emergency response, they were checking in on patients by text message who had missed their appointment. It was really changing how healthcare was being delivered, using things that were already there.”

Since then, Medic Mobile has expanded to serve 18 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia. Its randomized trials help each community receive the targeted and customized help that answers its most pressing healthcare needs.

In India, for instance, the company began an automated alert system that notified healthcare workers when a child missed his vaccination appointment. That alert prompted a visit to his home and a discussion with his parents. Just by implementing that system, the number of children who were current on their vaccines in the region went from 60 percent to 99 percent.

It’s a thoughtful model, and one that extends to the environment as well. In order to help fund the business and take care of the planet, Medic Mobile started the HopePhones campaign, which recycles old cellphones. Nesbit says, “You print a free shipping label, put it on your old cellphone, toss it into the mail,” he says. “It’s tax deductible, and every dollar that we earn goes into a fund and is used to support these projects—the ones that need the funding most,” he says.

“Your old iPhone is worth $60, and that helps us buy three cellphones and three solar panels for community health workers in the Congo. It’s not sending your old junk overseas, which we think is the wrong model; it’s actually reincarnating the value of the cellphone to be used and then purchasing things in local markets.”

Looking at an issue like healthcare in developing countries, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by how much is needed—facilities, trained personnel, transportation, and the rest of it. But what’s really unique about Medic Mobile is that it proves that something as simple as the act of communicating can be change enough to positively impact the health of thousands.

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