India is the second-largest mobile phone user with over 900 million users in the world. It accounted for over 10% of the world’s online population in 2011. This was stated by Shri Ghulam Nabi Azad, Union Minister of Health & Family Welfare in London.
Addressing the seminar on “The Role of Health Informatics – How Health is making difference to ordinary people in India” at Healthcare & Life Sciences Global Business Summit, Shri Azad said that mobile telecommunications have seen tremendous growth in India. This growth has been inclusive with benefits accruing to the poorest households in the remotest regions of the country. In 2011 alone, 142 million mobile-cellular subscriptions were added in India, twice as many as in the whole of Africa, and more than in the Arab States, CIS and Europe put together. The mobile tariffs in India have become among the lowest in the world. A new mobile connection can be activated with a monthly commitment of 15 cents only.
Recognizing the potential to reach out to people, especially those living in remote areas and adolescents he said that Government of India has recently taken steps to integrate and enhance existing Health related – IT enabled Systems. A name, address and telephone based Mother and Child Tracking System (MCTS) is a new initiative of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and is one of the excellent examples of leveraging Information Technology for ensuring delivery of full spectrum of healthcare and immunization services to pregnant women and children up to 5 years of age. This system is aimed at generating a data bank to validate delivery of services, ensuring ante-natal, intra-natal and post-natal checkups, nursing universal immunization, ensuring quality service delivery, micro planning. These initiatives will have a positive impact on important health indicators like Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) and Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR).
Shri Azad said that that Mother & Child Tracking System employs mobile-based SMS technology to communicate with grass roots level health care services providers, health and family welfare policy makers, health managers and health administrators at different tiers of the health care delivery system. This tracking system has ‘pull’ features making it very user friendly. A pregnant woman registered in MCTS can use the MCTS interface to know which of the scheduled services she has received and which of the maternal care services she still requires. Similarly, parents of a child can get information about vaccines the child has already received and details of the vaccinations due. 25.2 million pregnant women and 18.3 million children have been registered in MCTS since its inception in 2010. In the current year (2012-13) alone, 3.8 million pregnant women and 2.2 million children have been registered.
One example of effective use of mobile technology is using SMS to communicate with the 3.2 million Central Government Health Services (CGHS) beneficiaries spread across India. These beneficiaries are patients who come to the CGHS Wellness Centres for consultation and getting medicines for treatment. Under the aegis of the National Rural Health Mission, mobile telephone based systems are being increasingly used for managing health information systems.
Besides the above initiatives, the Government of India is planning a mobile based information dissemination programme. Through this initiative, health promotion messages could be sent out as and when required for maternal & child health, nutrition for children, adolescent health and population stabilisation, tobacco control, information on non-communicable diseases & healthy lifestyle and HIV/AIDS.
Shri Azad said that through these efforts, our major policy objective is to reposition the mobile phone from a mere communication device to an instrument of empowerment and use it to help take health care services at the doorstep of ordinary people. He hoped that these meetings will highlight the importance of the health sector and enable global health leaders to benefit from opportunities for collaboration and develop meaningful partnerships to improve upon health care delivery.