Thursday, March 03, 2011

Health experts see opportunities with mobile banking technology

Mobile phones may be the easiest way to reach remote villages in the under-developed world. Well over sixty of the under-developed world's people own a mobile phone. Many have been using their phones for mobile banking as a way to prevent theft and to build savings. Developers are now looking into building health apps so mobile phones can help to meet medical care needs for poor people.

From the PBS Newshour, writer Talea Miller provides this summary of the benefits seen with mobile phone technology.

Leading the mobile finance charge is Kenya's M-Pesa system, the largest mobile phone banking platform in the world. It has exploded in popularity over the last decade and now serves more than 13 million active customers.

With mobile banking systems on the rise, health experts are hoping to capitalize on the budding technology to make health services more accessible as well.

The mobile finance systems allow subscribers to store and transfer money as credits on their phones, and withdraw cash from local vendors when needed. The tools have appealed to many people who previously had no banking mechanism.

"At the end of the day, mobile is the only thing that reaches villages," said Menekse Gencer, the founder of the consulting firm mPay Connect. She authored a recent report on mobile banking and health for the World Economic Forum and mHealth Alliance.

"There is a massive customer need. How can you conduct your life in an efficient way when you are dealing with cash alone?"

Mobile networks now cover areas of the developing world that internet access and land lines never reached. An estimated 68 percent of people in the developing world have mobile subscriptions, according to the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union, while only 21 percent have online access.

Gencer said the health field is slowly adopting mobile financial tools, including the World Food Programme, which uses mobile devices for some of its food aid voucher programs.

The application allows a food vender to enter a person's voucher code into a mobile phone, and the system automatically reimburses the vendor via mobile payment. The convenience encourages retailers to participate in the food program, and cuts paperwork.

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