Why it matters
SDG 3 focuses on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all. Despite advances in areas such as maternal and child mortality, the rate of improvement has slowed and the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to reverse years of progress as it devastates global health systems.
The industry contribution
Mobile technology contributes to SDG 3 by helping to secure healthcare financing, optimising healthcare service delivery, providing health workers with enhanced skills and supporting the infrastructure needed for the health information system and early detection of diseases through analytics. Digital healthcare tools play a vital role in achieving this goal, especially in resource-constrained areas.
Since 2015, SDG 3 has been the second-most improved SDG in terms of industry impact. In 2019, 32% of mobile subscribers in the world used mobile to improve and monitor their health, equal to 1.6 billion subscribers, an increase of over 900 million since 2015. Further, there were over half a million IoT health connections by 2019, while IoT wearable connections grew to 745 million (up 45% since 2015).
Strengthening healthcare systems in developing countries
Target 3.1: By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births.
Target 3.c: Substantially increase health financing and the recruitment, development, training and retention of the health workforce in developing countries, especially in least developed countries and small island developing states.
Mobile health solutions support the delivery of quality and affordable health care. Increasing access to information and connecting people to healthcare can prevent and reduce mortality rates due to pregnancy and childbirth. For example, mobile app access and the use of USSD, SMS and chatbots improved care received by pregnant women in Cameroon, where less than 60% of women receive the recommended amount of care. The GiftedMom application connects specialists with mothers and pregnant women and has supported over half a million mothers as of 2020. It also works closely with over 45 hospitals in Cameroon to help prevent premature deaths. As of December 2019, the startup has provided critical health information to over 250,000 women, many of whom are nursing mothers earning less than $3 a day.
Mobile apps can also provide on-demand training, enable communication between health workers, support the implementation of clinical decision support systems, and provide planning and scheduling tools for users. In Sierra Leone, community health workers can use MOTS (mobile training and support service), which provides refresher training through feature phones that run on IVR technology. The platform has been expanded to offer training based on up-to-date COVID-19 information.
To support health-system financing, a variety of digital solutions are being integrated in developing countries. For example, mobile money solutions enable affordable insurance offerings to low-income households. Examples from Kenya show that 35% of low-income households using hospital facilities took advantage of M-Pesa transfers to pay their bills, while M-Tiba’s mobile health wallet has facilitated medical pay-outs of $2 million since its launch in 2016.
Tanzania: mobile micro-health insurance to increase health financing
Less than 30% of people in Tanzania currently have access to health insurance. The remaining 35 million, who often work in the informal economy, must pay for health services every time they need them. Due to high administration costs, large insurance companies rarely serve small enterprises or Tanzanians making less than $100 a month.
Jamii is a mobile management platform for health insurance policies that performs the administrative functions of an insurer while providing access to low-cost micro-health insurance policies. Jamii has partnered with Vodacom Tanzania and a private insurance provider to offer health coverage options to individuals, families and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs). The policies are ordered and paid for on mobile phones via USSD and mobile money. Jamii uses Vodacom’s M-Pesa to collect premiums and pay out micro-insurance claims to hospitals.
As of January 2020, more than 11,750 people in Tanzania have been covered by health insurance offered through Jamii alone. The success has also meant that Vodacom is looking to replicate the partnership in other countries within its footprint to provide underserved populations with cashless and paperless micro-health insurance.
Digital tools to strengthen health information systems
Target 3.d: Strengthen the capacity of all countries, in particular developing countries, for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks.
COVID-19 has highlighted and exacerbated existing challenges in global health care systems. AI and mobile big data (MBD) analytics can help contain the spread of diseases by providing a tool to respond rapidly to a pandemic, understand how population mobility drives disease transmission and evaluate which interventions reduce such mobility. For instance, during the COVID-19 outbreak in Spain, Orange, Telefónica and Vodafone worked with the National Statistics Institute on population mobility to predict transmission hotspots, enable resource planning and gauge the impact of lockdown policies and strategies. Large gaps in detection and treatment persist in infectious diseases. For instance, the current pace of progress is not fast enough to meet the SDG target of ending the tuberculosis epidemic by 2030. In the most susceptible countries across Asia and Africa, targeted prevention, diagnosis and treatment using MBD could reduce an additional 650,000 cases of tuberculosis alone over five years (equivalent to a reduction of over 1%). MBD can also be applied to other communicable diseases such as malaria, cholera and hepatitis B.
India: risk reduction of infectious diseases
In recent years there have been over 450 million cases of tuberculosis, malaria, dengue, cholera and hepatitis B estimated worldwide. Some at-risk nations, such as India, have adopted ambitious targets to wipe out tuberculosis by 2030.
In India, Airtel supported the development of a proof of concept that pinpoints geographic locations at high risk of exposure to tuberculosis. Mobile location data from subscribers, once aggregated and anonymised, can be used to understand regular population movements such as commuting patterns to work and schools and other habitual daily journeys. These movement patterns, when combined with publicly available data on incidence rates of tuberculosis, can be used to identify areas that are at risk of infectious spread.
Using the mobile data of approximately 40 million people and the expertise of Be He@lthy Be Mobile (an initiative set up by the World Health Organization) on tuberculosis and local requirements, areas, where anti-tuberculosis measures would be most effective, were identified.
Maximising impact by 2030
Enablers that could help maximise the mobile industry’s impact on SDG 3 include the following:
- Scaling digital health to the bottom of the pyramid and driving adoption to serve those with low literacy levels and the least purchasing power.
- Enabling frontier technologies such as big data analytics and AI for healthcare in developing countries in a cost-effective way.
- Targeting solutions with the most vulnerable sections of the community in mind.