Mobile Technology in Africa


In the last few years Africa has had a large demand for mobile phones. The demand comes primarily from rural and low income areas- many benefits to having a mobile phone have been found in these parts of Africa. Such benefits include:

  • A sense of well being
  • Improved income (people can easily arrange cash transfers from their mobile phones)
  • Reduced risk (easily accessible way to call for assistance)


This kind of technology offers opportunities for delivering services that are tailored to the needs of the poor.

  • A pilot project in Nairobi’s slums run by The Open Knowledge Network uses SMS push and pull services to reach out to the population regarding news about health (primarily HIV/AIDS), jobs and community news.

Prior to cell phone usage in Africa, real time disease surveillance and monitoring data was hard to track. In order to track the spread and prevalence of disease, medical doctors had to rely on sentinel sites and modeling estimates. This was frustrating for many doctors because their biggest obstacle was not being able to evaluate something they could not measure in real time. If they couldn’t measure it, then there was not much that could be done.


Mobile phones in Africa are changing this. According to the MIT Technology Review, for the first time medical doctors are seeing good quality data that gives them information about who is dying from what and where disease clusters are occurring. This has given global and national health strategies a huge potential to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people. This kind of data has the potential not only to inform health care workers what’s going on in real time, but it is also possible to predict future global health trends.


Simple measures have proven to be highly effective, such as mobile phones have made it possible for parents to easily register the birth of their child which has allowed government to plan interventions more accurately such as vaccination schedules.

Health care workers have the ability to access healthcare records, schedule appointments using their phones and can issue automated text reminders to parents about appointments and the location of vaccine clinics.

Cell phone subscription in some parts of Africa has vastly increased since the year 2000. In Nigeria cell usage increased roughly 87% from the year 2000 to 2013.


Mobile phones have helped displaced persons connect with their family members and loved ones. Refugees United, an NGO, has united with mobile phone companies to create a database where people have the opportunity to fill in their information and search for lost family members or people they have lost contact with. It’s a free service that allows you to connect and communicate via a mobile application.

In our reading, Here Comes Everybody — “The most obvious one is make joining easy, in order to make the promise seem within reach. … Other strategies include creating personal value for the individual users, allowing the social value to manifest only later”.  I think this is true for people in Africa, mobile phones have been easily accessible and people are taking advantage of that for their own well being.



5 thoughts on “Mobile Technology in Africa

  1. Prior to reading your post I knew very little about mobile technology in Africa. You did a great job of presenting the facts. I also appreciated how you clearly outlined how this use of media is has the capability of transforming health. I found your post incredibly interesting and helpful in understanding mobile communication in other countries. Overall, great post, I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Hey! This was super interesting and informative. In doing the reading, tutorials and blog post this week, I had not really considered the utility of general population text message users texting to inform health workers in conducting disease surveillance. This is really important to keep in mind–SMS campaigns are not just about distributing information, but can be about interaction and utility for both parties.

  3. Patricia – nice job rounding up the landscape of Africa’s mobile health gains. I thought that you made some nice connecting points around healthcare and the potential there.

    A few formatting notes: you may want to ‘wrap’ the text around the picture, so that it doesn’t break up the page. Also, most links in blog posts are more readable as hyperlinks, like this rather than this:

  4. I didn’t realize that people were using mobile phones for things as varied as registering the birth of their children. What a great way to use technology in an innovative way. It’s really cool to see out-of-the-box solutions to help address common problems, like disease surveillance.

  5. I had a friend who was born in Trinidad, and her dad had to wait in line almost a day to register her birth. By the time it was his turn, he was so tired and impatient that he signed the wrong name, and now her name is not what they had originally intended! I think using phones in developing countries to simplify these otherwise time-sucking events would do wonders.

    I had also never heard of “Refugees United” before reading this post. Their website is really nice, and the testimonials are so inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing this information in your post!

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