Can mHealth Reach the Poorest of the Poor?

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Although mobile phone penetration is incredibly high, even in poor countries, there is concern that mobile based interventions may not be able to reach the poorest of the poor. While looking at M-PESA, a mobile money program in Kenya, Jamie M. Zimmerman and Sascha Meinrath of the New America Foundation find that even the low fees associated with the program may be prohibitive for the poorest Kenyans:

In a 2010 study of M-PESA usage in Kenya, where mobile money penetration is greatest, 60 percent of the poorest quartile did not use the service. Part of the problem is access: Telecom companies have relatively little incentive to build out infrastructure, especially in poorer, rural markets…


Now is the time for a radical shift in thinking about ICT4D and the digital divide. We must find practical and appropriate solutions to support truly universal low-cost mobile connectivity. This will require regulators and policymakers willing to fight the tough regulatory battles necessary in order to ensure that the poorest householders are able to truly harness the power of mobile connectivity. If we do not, we run the risk of helping many at the expense of doubly-disadvantaging substantial portions of the global populace.


At the MHTF, we have been supportive of mhealth initiatives, but recognize they mhealth is just one of the many approaches that must be taken in order to improve the lives of mothers.