It’s undeniable that technology and the internet have changed the way we do things. One of the most important things about the way technology has advanced in the last few years is the way that things are beginning to become connected. A useful way to think of this new interconnectedness is the term ‘The internet of things’ which describes the infrastructure of the information society. In essence this describes how our various technological devices (phones, computers, fitness trackers, heart rate monitors etc) communicate with one another to communicate and capture data.
So your phone can tell you if it’s going to rain tomorrow so you should let your boss know you’ll be a few minutes late because of the traffic affecting your uber, and your need to stop off at the drycleaners, and that you should take some vitamins because your heart rate is slightly higher than usual today.
In the fields of health and wellness technology can assist in tracking wellbeing, monitoring chronic illness, and improving the way health care providers can communicate with and track their patients health. Already in South Africa, certain medical aid providers are encouraging their clients to use wearable technology to capture information about their physical health and wellness, and to share this with the medical aid and all their doctors to enhance the information about an individual’s health.
The limit to this though, is that less than 20 percent of South Africans have medical aid cover, and the vast majority use the public healthcare sector. But, the majority of South Africans do have a cell phone – in fact there are more cell phones than people. South African cell phones could put users in touch with clinics to remind them to come for prenatal tests, schedule their Voluntary Medical Male Circumcision (VMMC), remind them about their TB treatment, or encourage regular HIV testing and linking them to care. This could be true for even the most remote areas, those areas that are usually worst serviced in terms of health care facilities and practitioners. The potential for transformative healthcare is immense.
One of JPS Africa’s HIV prevention programmes focussing on VMMC could be a perfect entry point to utilise this type of technology. The first requirement (the phone) is in place. Now all these cell phone users require affordable and dependable internet connection in order to be able to connect with these services. Initiatives like Project Loon have been addressing this issue by providing free and constant WIFI in rural areas and around the world.
Because of the viability in rural areas, this could be an ideal way to facilitate the uptake of VMMC through allowing young men to schedule their circumcision, and to get provide information about their progress whilst healing, what to expect from the service providers, and to provide regular alerts on good care practices. It could also remind them when it is time to come in and complete the process, as well as reminders about safe sexual practice thereafter.
Establishing the personal connection at the point of health care, and by facilitating regular post-visit care via technology, could become the perfect way to keep South Africans healthy. Technology can transform lives – it already has, and the future looks set to provide more positive changes in SA.