with the contribution of Aurélie Cappuyns, Program Manager – Praesens Foundation
We recognise that “if people cannot come to healthcare, then healthcare must be taken to the people!”
The Mobile Health Alliance gathers organizations which all, in different ways, work to address a common challenge: bringing hope to remote and underserved communities by providing access to health-care services. Spread across the globe, with strong local footprints in over 20 countries, the Alliance is an open collaboration platform to share best practices and expertise on mobile health innovations that have been implemented locally and successfully.
Together, Alliance members reimagine the ways in which universal health coverage, or UHC, can be provided to patients in resource-poor settings. They envision a world where all people—including the hardest to reach and the most marginalised— have equal opportunities to live healthy lives in dignity and with hope.
In the words of Runa Khan, founder of the Social Purpose Organisation Friendship, “our greatest resource is people who are willing to mobilize to save lives, fight for human rights and make positive change. We need to focus on building resilience in this crisis.”
The organisations of the Mobile Health Alliance are keenly aware that other crises will follow this one, and while today’s priority is to combat COVID-19, it is essential to be actively prepared for future epidemics.
As this NY Times article highlighted in early March, the COVID-19 crisis both illustrates and exacerbates inequalities in healthcare—not least because, along with advanced and certain pre-existing conditions, low socioeconomic status is a major risk factor.
The organisations in the Mobile Health Alliance address first and foremost the poorest sections of the population, those whose needs are increased in times of crisis. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they have fought COVID-19 on the frontlines, repurposing their activities while maintaining a holistic view of their position in the wider spectrum of global health in order to avoid neglecting other highly needed health programmes, such as those fighting HIV, TB or malaria.
Usually, these organisations collaborate with local governments, but in times of crisis their roles take on new dimensions, as a complement to national response measures.
Thus, in Senegal, Praesens Foundation—an organisation devoted to epidemic preparedness—partners with Institut Pasteur and adapts its mobile biosafety laboratory to support the local testing of patients in nine regions.
In South Africa, the Transnet-Phelophepa trains—healthcare clinics on wheels that travel the country to provide rural communities with general health facilities, dental and eye checks and treatments for diagnosed conditions—have been officially mandated by the South African government to boost testing capacity for COVID-19 in rural areas.
Alcela, which along with its partners operates a fleet of 55 mobile X-ray vans in Pakistan, three in Nigeria and two in the Philippines, has adapted its activities to bring testing support to local authorities.
In India, Impact India has been running the “Lifeline Express” mobile hospital on a train since 1991, working in partnership with Indian Railways. Drawing on this experience, in early April the state organization converted some 20,000 train carriages into isolation wards for COVID-19 patients, bringing huge relief to the country’s healthcare system.
In Bangladesh, the Friendship SPO relays prevention messages to the most isolated populations and finds a way to respond to the need for protective equipment by engaging the communities it works for in mass production of fabric for protective masks.
As COVID-19 reaches Nepal, Karuna Shechen is organizing emergency operations in addition to its prevention and monitoring work.
On its side, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation keeps fighting to maintain treatment access for its beneficiaries and ensure continuity of HIV care using all the resources available: social media, community solidarity, churches…
Every day, these and other members of the Mobile Health Alliance try to understand local needs and respond better to this new crisis, adapting the wide range of proven real-life solutions that they have at hand.
Mobile health services in western countries
Since the beginning of this pandemic, the idea of mobile healthcare systems has been taken up in the countries of the global north to support existing systems. Among other examples, in the United States the “Comfort” hospital ship provides extra capacity to treat the sick; and in France, TGV trains move affected patients to care.
Illness is universal, access to healthcare is not. Good health must be contagious.