The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are teaming up to use mobile technology to fight disease.
The new “m-Health” initiative, announced Wednesday at the ITU Telecom World 2012 in Dubai, will aim to use mobile technologies such as text messaging and apps to combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The initiative will initially run four years and focus on prevention, treatment and enforcement to control NCDs including diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular and chronic respiratory diseases.
NCDs are some of the leading causes of death and disease throughout the world, the ITU states. They dominate healthcare needs and expenditures in most developed, and low and middle-income countries, causing an estimated 36 million deaths every year.
Using mobile telephone technology, m-Health practices can help save lives, reduce illness and disability, and reduce healthcare costs significantly, the UN agency added.
Through the Initiative, ITU and WHO will provide evidence-based and operational guidance to encourage partners worldwide, especially governments, to implement m-Health interventions to address prevention and treatment of NCDs and their common risk factors – tobacco use, unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and the harmful use of alcohol.
“By joining forces, ITU and WHO will fight against debilitating non-communicable diseases that can be controlled through the intervention of m-Health solutions and services that are at once cost effective, scalable and sustainable,” said ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Touré.
The ITU-WHO m-Health initiative will build on current projects, existing health systems and platforms, and will involve partnerships between governments, NGOs and the private sector.
Oleg Chestnov, WHO assistant director-general for non-communicable diseases and mental health, says his organization is already using mobile devices to carry out surveillance of non-communicable diseases and their risk factors.
WHO and ITU member states are also testing mobile solutions for NCDs, ranging from providing assistance to help people quit tobacco, increase their activity levels, eat more healthily and helping NCD patients better manage their conditions.
All of these experiences will feed into the new initiative, which is a direct follow up to the high level meeting on the prevention and control of NCDs convened by the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2011.