When Mobile Money meets mHealth: Why we need to connect the dots NOW

I recently finished a white paper for The World Economic Forum and the mHealth Alliance where I identified the intersection points between mHealth (or Health, in general) and Mobile Financial Services.  This past week, I did an East Coast tour where I began to present the results of the research I did (at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Policy, Columbia’s Institute for Tele-Information as well as the mHealth Summit.)  There appears to be considerable interest on this topic.  As a guest to the Health Industry, I was struck by the power that mobile money can bring in bolstering health outcomes for the poor.  Yet, within organizations, mobile payments and mHealth are still siloed.  Often times, they don’t even know one another.

We mobile money people don’t often have the opportunity to understand what our efforts ultimately can do in our adjacent industries.  I knew that mobile money is a keystone to delivering better health services and making a greater impact.  We can address this from an academic standpoint and list how, but here’s the bottom line…

Kenya is the leading country in the world when it comes to mobile money.  The world looks at Kenya as the model country which is having not only the greatest uptake in usage (Today over 60% of Kenyan adults now use mPesa), but has the potential to change the economic development of the country in an unprecedented manner.  New research from Billy Jack and Tuneet Suri indicates that it may be reducing the income irregularity and risk that the poor face daily.  Over $400 million worth of volume goes through the system MONTHLY.  To put this in perspective, last year, PayPal mobile had $600 million in volume for the entire year globally.  The number of transactions passing through the mPesa system (in a country with a population of 38 million with per capita GDP of less than $1,000) is greater than all of the transactions Western Union had globally.

And, despite this home run, 56% of the women in Kenya give birth at home, leading to very high maternal and natal mortality rates.  I knew this statistic before last week, but I didn’t understand the gravity of why this was happening.  Of course, access to clinics is still a challenge, but there is one other egregious situation happening.  Women (and other patients at hospitals) are literally imprisoned in the hospitals if they cannot to pay their hospital bills:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/13/kenya-maternity-poverty-detained-hospital

 Only 3% of the population has access to public insurance.  11 million people go without.  A pregnant mother could go into a hospital, require a C-section, and then be unable to leave because of the medical emergency that she could not afford.  I point this out not because Kenya is unique.  Certainly, this type of issue persists globally.  I point this out because it is incomprehensible that one industry (mobile money) can be working as a model to the rest of the world, and still, people face issues of not being able to pay their hospital bills due to lack of remittance, savings, insurance, or credit. 

We can do better than this. 

We have to do better than this. 

We need to connect the dots now. 

This white paper is not an academic exercise.   My hope is that it acts as a catalyst to help these two industries connect the dots.  For those of you interested in getting this paper once it’s published, please write to me at: mgencer@arcspringgroup.com.  It will be published for the Davos World Economic Forum end of January.

Meanwhile, I’ve launched a new business with my mHealth colleague Ali Bloch to begin to connect these dots between these critical industries in developing markets:  www.arcspringgroup.com

2 responses to “When Mobile Money meets mHealth: Why we need to connect the dots NOW

  1. Meneske, can you give an example of how mobile money and mHealth interact?


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