Parts of the developing world face significant risk from mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria; other areas, such as West Africa, have been hit significantly by epidemics like Ebola. In such regions medical supplies are scarce and training and development of nurses, medics and biomedical scientists is expensive. There are other problems too
. Medical universities often do not have enough qualified instructors
; sometimes there is a lack of access to modern curricula and equipment; and sometimes the programs are not up-to-date in terms of the latest medical practice. Such is the extent of the issue that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates
that 4.3 million healthcare practitioners are necessary to make up the global current deficit.
As well as what is available via the Internet (albeit of variable quality), to address some of the resource gaps in training and education, several companies have invested in e-learning platforms, of the type that can be viewed on smartphones or computers. Medical schools are also starting to use e-learning tools such as webcasts and online study aids.
Commenting on the digital solution, Dr. Josip Car, who hails from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London told a WHO symposium
: "eLearning programs could potentially help address the shortage of healthcare workers by enabling greater access to education; especially in the developing world the need for more health professionals is greatest."
One example of a medical app aimed at areas without significant infrastructure is Curofy
. This is a mobile platform designed for medical doctors to connect with other doctors. The innovation in digital health
enables medics to seek advice, take second opinion, post their requirements, and also to read and share latest news relating to medical developments.
The app was launched recently by Gurgaon-based 911 India Healthcare Pvt Ltd. Across India some 72,000 doctors in 550 locales are already signed up. Interviewed by Economic Times about the app
, Dr Mohan Kundal, who is a paediatrician at RML Hospital in New Delhi, enthused: "Doctors often come across cases that they encounter for the first time and post about them on the app". He adds: "Imagine the extent of knowledge that can be shared when there are regular practitioners, specialty and super specialty doctors on the same platform. There's a great deal to learn from every case study discussed on the app."
The success of the app shows how the mobile device and software industries together with the international development community can pool their expertise to create mobile and e-learning services that can improve both teaching, learning and peer-to-peer interaction.
An alternative approach is one in which wealthier nations provide webcasts to help students in poorer countries. The University of Washington’s Department of Global Health, for instance, provides distance learning technologies for low-resource regions. This takes the form of an initiative called eDGH
, an e-learning program broadcast to over 30 countries. An example module from the program is
"Introduction to Epidemiology for Global Health."
While further innovations in digital technology are likely to come, those that are available already offer exciting possibilities for overcoming geographical access and cost barriers to learning.