Is digital tech successfully decreasing global maternal and child mortality in India?

There is no doubt that internet access across India is rapidly increasing, it is estimated that by 2017 it’s expected to become the 2nd largest smartphone market on the planet.

India is at a pivotal point in its history. As the world’s fastest-growing economy, internet access across India is rapidly increasing and, by 2017, it’s expected to become the second largest smartphone market on the planet. With the dual effect of enhanced access to digital solutions helping to improve women’s health and wellbeing, combined with support for the rise in entrepreneurship, the stage is set for a movement to address the gender imbalance. 
 According to a Deloitte research team, digital adoption will be a significant contributor to overall Indian healthcare market that is worth $100 billion and is expected to grow at a 23% CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) to reach $280 billion by 2020. 
 Yet today according to one of the leading barometers for global gender parity, United Nations Development programme’s Human Development Reports on GII Gender Inequality Index, India is in the bottom twenty countries, lagging at 130th place on the Index.

The effect of enhanced and rampant digitalisation and innovation in the healthcare space will hopefully open the doors to new possibilities and a wave can emerge to finally address the issues causing gender imbalance. 
 Leading from the front of this wave are the growing number of digital disruptors that have risen in past three years. MAMA (Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action is an organisation that uses mobile phones to deliver vital health information to new and expectant mothers. According to MAMA, India accounts for 17 percent of global maternal mortality, 27 per cent of global newborn mortality and 25 percent of global child mortality. These numbers are not only the highest in comparison with the rest of the countries, but it’s shameful considering the fact that we are the fastest growing economy in the world. 
 Thanks to the pervasiveness of mobile phones it has become possible to impart knowledge to under-served women mostly with low literacy levels with the aim to reduce preventable deaths. MAMA launched a programme in Mumbai Slums partnering with ARMANN an NGO founded by urogynecologist, a social entrepreneurs and TEDx Speaker, Dr Aparna Hegde called as mMitra. mMitra is digital service that sends free pregnancy and child health information to pregnant women and new mothers twice each week, in a language and at a time of their choosing. Information is sent via SMS or as a recorded message and explains the developmental stage of a child throughout pregnancy and the baby’s first year of life.

It helps mothers understand developmental milestones and can identify potential heath issues before they grow and become a serious problem. mMitra in its first few months had over 50,000 subscribers.

eCompliance is an innovative, portable biometric tracking system developed by Dr Shelly Batra in partnership with Microsoft Research that takes TB treatment to the doorsteps of rural communities. TB is one of the top five causes of death for adult women aged 20–59 in India and is also on the top with the highest number of TB Sufferers globally. According to WHO (World Health Organisation), India had a total 220,000 deaths in 2014. But this determined female entrepreneur is burning her midnight oil to combat the issue. eCompliance aims to improve successful completion of TB patients’ full treatment regimen, reducing the default rate that is contributing to the rise of new, drug-resistant, strains of the disease (MDR-TB). eCompliance uses fingerprint recognition and SMS messaging to ensure patients are adhering to their treatment regimens. Moreover, at each clinic visit both patient and the healthcare worker scan their fingerprints to dispense the medicines and the treatment gets automatically recorded in the systems database.

There are now over 130 community centres in India with eCompliance terminals, and over 220,000 visits have been logged. These inspirational entrepreneurs are using the digital technology as their tool to help mitigate some serious healthcare issues that currently haunt our country. Let’s hope in coming years we see more disruptions to tackle more complicated problems that are lagging in the healthcare system of our country.