Of the 7 billion people that exist on our planet, 5 billion use mobile phones, and of those mobile phone subscribers about 70 percent are in emerging economies, according to U.N. estimates. So it is small wonder that health organisations are seeking to exploit this media to bring life-saving health information to isolated areas of the world.
In countries such as India and South Africa pregnant women who can’t visit doctors regularly can register their due dates and receive text messages with information that matches up with their babies’ development, such as what food they should be eating. In rural areas of Africa texting is also used to manage malaria by regular communication with health workers and patients.
According to MIT, Technology Review an adaptation of the iPhone camera will now enable it to detect blood disorders such as sickle-cell anemia to benefit those in places without medical infrastructure. The system was developed at the University of California, Davis, and is designed to allow field workers to photograph blood samples from patients, and then send the micrographs to doctors through the mobile network for interpretation.
This coupling of microscopes to mobile phone cameras is not new, however, the Davis group aimed to make its device inexpensive. It did this by using a very simple lens that is made from a single ball of glass about one millimeter in diameter and held in position in front of the camera with a small piece of rubber. The small size results in a high curvature that provides good magnification, says Sebastian Wachsmann-Hogiu, a physicist with Davis’s Centre for Biophotonics, Science, and Technology, and the leader of the research team. Because a mobile phone camera also uses lenses with a short focal length and a miniaturized sensor with very small pixels, it’s optically compatible with the small ball lens. “You couldn’t do this with a regular camera, the distances there are too big,” says Wachsmann-Hogiu.
While the system was developed using a relatively expensive iPhone 4 with a five-megapixel camera, Wachsmann-Hogiu says it could be adapted to cheaper phones with one or two megapixel cameras, which are more likely to be found in poor countries. Wachsmann-Hogiu believes that with mass production, an accessory based on a plastic, rather than glass, lens design could be produced for around $2 dollars, cheap enough to be broadly adopted in developing countries.
Wachsmann-Hogiu estimates the system could reach the market within two or three years.
No doubt we can look forward to many more mHealth developments in the future piggybacking on the mobile technology platform.