Improving Maternal Health by Addressing the Intersections Between Mobile Health and Mobile Finance

By Menekse Gencer

So far, one the of the hardest Millennium Development Goals to reach is goal number five, which seeks to reduce maternal mortality and improve access to reproductive health worldwide. Four million babies die each year before they are thirty days old, and 350,000 mothers die yearly during pregnancy or childbirth.  Most of these deaths could be prevented by improved access to and financing for health services.

Today, more people have access to mobile phones than to clean water or an electrical grid.  This ubiquity of mobile access enables people to leverage new services.  mHealth, or the use of  information and communication technology to provide better access to health services for practitioners and patients, is increasing health services access for the poor.  Similarly, mobile financial services are providing increased access to financial services for this same base.  Together, mHealth and mobile financial services may be the key to reaching the MDG goal around maternal health.

In a new discussion paper presented today at the annual World Economic Forum Meeting in Davos, I sought to identify key intersection points and cross-sector synergies between mobile financial services, or MFS, and healthcare. By doing so, we hope that we can begin to address MDG initiatives in a more efficient and scalable manner to ultimately achieve greater impact.

Improving Maternal Health

One of the most exciting linkages between mHealth and mobile financial services can be found in the field of maternal health.  Mobile financial services supports maternal care at the patient level, provider level, and administrative level as depicted below.

Pregnancy:  MFS can be used for remote payment and settlement of testing, labs, and remote diagnostics.  MFS can be used as the method of supply chain payments for prenatal vitamins. Access to mobile credit by retailers will ensure reductions of stock-outs. In the future, healthcare providers may use MFS to pay for remote access to a pregnant mother’s electronic healthcare records.  Patients can receive conditional cash transfers for participating in healthcare services offered for pregnant mothers and healthcare workers can receive performance-based funding.  For those pregnant mothers without insurance, prepaid savings accounts can be offered in preparation for upcoming delivery expenses.

Birth: MFS can be used for direct payment, co-payment, or for third-party settlement of all healthcare services associated with birth, from ambulatory transport to hospital care.

Post-Natal:  Voucher-based or direct mobile payments can be triggered via mobile for services associated with post-natal care, such as infant immunizations.

If properly leveraged, I believe that cross-sector synergies between mHealth and MFS can advance the objectives of the MDG around maternal and neo-natal mortality rates.

Read the full report: Amplifying the Impact: Examining the Intersections between Mobile Health and Mobile Finance.

Ms. Gencer founded mPay Connect, a consulting service for clients seeking to launch mobile payments.  Her consulting service advises financial institutions, mobile network operators, third party platforms, and other industries on market assessment, go-to-market strategy, product design, business development, and implementation. Prior to founding mPay Connect, Menekse led PayPal Mobile’s Business Development efforts in North America.  Menekse has an MBA from Wharton and a BA in Economics from Harvard University with 17 years of experience in mobile, high tech, and financial services.