MOBILE HEALTH FOR ALL is a project that aims to reach underserved populations with health education, information and diagnosis through the use of mobile technology.("Uso de Tecnología Movil para Asistencia Médica"). This interdisciplinary research project intends to demonstrate how technology applications could be used to improve the health of vulnerable populations in the Andean region in Perú via a collaborative partnership of leading Engineering, Medicine and Public Health academic departments. This research initiative is to improve the access to quality healthcare and education for underserved populations in Peru through the use of mobile health (mHealth) technologies.

In order to ensure populations can and will use our new technologies, we need to first understand the social and cultural barriers to technology adoption broadly, and to the health devices and applications specifically. Throughout the phases of the project we would incorporate a human factors engineering approach focusing on the individual capabilities and limitations together with a culturally relevant approach to technology design. We would need first to become knowledgeable of the communitie's cultural attributes, beliefs and practices. We expect that the technology developed and lessons learned in this project can benefit other parts of South America and, potentially, other parts of the world, as we look to improve maternal and child health locally and later in the Andean region of South America.

m-Health for Underserved Populations in Peru

Peru is the third largest country in South America after Brazil and Argentina and has the fifth larger country population in the region. With approximately 30 million inhabitants, 25% of Peruvians live in rural areas. Each year, hundreds of women die during pregnancy or childbirth and thousands of others survive but are left with life-long debilitating complications. The country has three demographic regions, the coast, the high Andean region, and the Amazonian or jungle region. The Andean region, or ‘Andes’, where poverty strikes, has approximately 43% of the country population. The Andes are areas above 1,200 meters (or 3,900 ft). Based on latest data from (2011), the country has a 28% poverty rate. Socio-economic and health disparities & inequalities are a major national concern, especially in the Andean region. It should be noted also that Spanish, the first language of the large majority of Peruvians, or 84%, coexists with two predominant indigenous languages, Quechua and Aymara (Peruvian National Institute of Statistics, INEI). The National Engineering University (UNI) has a long history of working with the Government to bring technology to underserved and remote areas in the Andean and Amazonian regions. These technological interventions have been geared towards solving pressing needs of the communities involved. Huancavelica, a large region in the central Andes, is one of Perú’s poorest regions with a poverty level of approximate 40%, low educational levels and widespread illiteracy, especially among women. The maternal and child health problem here is particularly acute. Factors shown to impact child and maternal health – all present in this region – include: 1) a language barrier, as most residents are Quechua-speaking; 2) extreme poverty; 3) malnutrition; and 4) lack of access to health care in this rural, mountainous region. The proposed socio-technical health intervention described next is anchored in the city of Huancavelica and its surrounding communities.

Recent advances in mobile computing and body sensing technologies have enabled new ways to practice medicine and promote public health using mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. These “mHealth” applications include the use of mobile devices in collecting community and clinical health data, delivery of healthcare information to practitioners, researchers, and patients, real-time monitoring of patient vital signs, and direct provision of care (via mobile telemedicine). mHealth technologies provide a viable approach to improve the access to quality healthcare and education for developing countries, due to the rapid rise of mobile phone penetration in low-income nations. The benefit of using mHealth in developing countries include increased access to healthcare and health-related information (particularly for hard-to-reach populations); improved ability to diagnose and track diseases; timelier, more actionable public health information; and expanded access to ongoing medical education and training for health workers. There is no doubt that mHealth technologies are well suited for improving access to quality maternal and child healthcare and health education in the Andean regions of Perú. This research endeavor will investigate the technological and human systems interactions that should be considered when developing mobile applications to address health disparities in general, and maternal health in particular. The challenge of this effort lies in the integration of the technology into the current socio-technical system in the Peruvian Andean region.

Research Team

The research team includes faculty from 3 academic institutions, University of Massachusetts Lowell in the United States, Universidad Nacional de Ingeniería and La Universidad Nacional de Huancavelica (National University of Huancavelica) in Peru. UMass Lowell is a campus of the University of Massachusetts system. It is among the top 100 public Universities in the U.S., with 16,000 students and close to 90 undergraduate and graduate programs and a roughly $60 million research enterprise. UNI was founded in 1876 and is the top engineering and science university of Perú.