In my last blog I wrote about the focus on innovation at the World Economic Forum for Africa. One of the most significant changes in development in Africa is the spread of the use of new technologies, particularly the mobile phone – now known as ‘mhealth’.

There is well-founded hope that mobile communications will impact health care across Africa – both in rural and urban areas. They have huge potential for the flow of information. But mobile does not mean mobility.

It has to be recognised that despite the exciting potential, there are limits to what a mobile phone can do. Much of rural Africa does not have signal reception – I have found myself climbing steep hills in rural areas hoping to catch a signal. I have not attempted climbing trees but I have seen it done.

Nevertheless, connectivity will improve. But the day that a mobile phone can immunise children, deliver anti-retroviral drugs, or help prevent a mother suffering obstetric complications will be quite a day.

A mobile phone may be liberated from a static point of reception, but it does not create mobility. It is mobility – the old fashioned technology of the internal combustion engine – that propels the ambulances and other vehicles that are so necessary, and yet so neglected, for equitable health care across Africa.

Let’s call it ‘thealth’. Transport for health care.

The physical movement of people and services to connect the 70% of people who live in rural Africa with health care is one of the most vital yet neglected aspects of health care on that continent.

We can’t let the well justified excitement about the potential of the mobile phone distract us further from addressing mobility – physically connecting the health care with the community. This may be an old technology but a hands-on approach to health care will never go out of fashion.



Author: Andrea Coleman, Riders for Health, United Kingdom;Social Entrepreneur, Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum.

Riders for Health works with health ministries and NGOs in Africa to maintain and manage more than 1,000 motorcycles and other vehicles. This enables healthcare workers to service remote areas. Riders’ innovative transport systems incorporate skills training for driving, daily maintenance procedures, fuelling supply-chain logistics for replacement parts, and interval preventative maintenance. The organization emphasizes building local capacity to manage and maintain its vehicles. A conservative estimate shows 11 million people receive regular, reliable healthcare because of Riders for Health. Read More