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Lack of mobile phones hits healthcare access for poor: Oxford

The study said that in areas where mobile phones become more common, people left behind have more difficulty accessing healthcare services.

world Updated: Jan 23, 2018 16:16 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
mobile phones,University of Oxford,Marco J Haenssgen
According to GSMA, mobile technology can increase the quality, reduce the cost and extend the reach of healthcare.(Representative Photo)

The fast spread of mobile phones across low-income countries such as India can make it easier for users to access healthcare but also harder for poorer people in rural areaswithout the phones, new research at the University of Oxford has suggested.

Published in the latest issue of World Development, the study by Marco J Haenssgen at the CABDyN Complexity Centre and the Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health at Oxford analysed publicly available data from more than 12,000 households in rural India with sick family members in 2005 and 2012.

The study suggested that healthcare services expect more people to use a mobile phone, and that mobile phone users are more assertive when they compete for access to the few doctors and nurses in rural India, a university statement said.

In areas where mobile phones become more common, people left behind have more difficulty accessing healthcare services, said the study titled “The struggle for digital inclusion: phone, healthcare, and marginalisation in rural India”.

Haenessgen said: “Because of their fast spread globally, mobile phones are often seen as a blessing for development, especially in low- and middle-income countries. This perception is particularly true when it comes to healthcare provision for the rural poor.”

The study notes that according to GSMA - the trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide - mobile technology can increase the quality, reduce the cost and extend the reach of healthcare to benefit millions.

Haenssgen said: “This study uses only crude measures of healthcare access and mobile phone use, so this certainly is not the end of the story. But the findings add to a consistent picture of mobile phone use and healthcare access that has emerged over the past five years of research.

“While there is no reason to demonise mobile phones, we see again and again that their spread comes with problems as well as opportunities. We should therefore not conclude that now everyone really needs a mobile just to maintain their basic access to services – that would be tyranny.”

The study concludes five years of research on mobile technologies and healthcare access in rural India and China.

Earlier research on a smaller scale into health-related mobile phone use in low- and middle-income countries (India and China) had shown that phone users are more likely to overuse scarce healthcare services, potentially to the detriment of non-users, the statement said.

First Published: Jan 23, 2018 16:16 IST