Who bears the cost of ‘informal mhealth’? Health-workers’ mobile phone practices and associated political-moral economies of care in Ghana and Malawi
Africa’s recent communications ‘revolution’ has generated optimism that using mobile phones for health (mhealth) can help bridge healthcare gaps, particularly for rural, hard-to-reach populations. However, while scale-up of mhealth pilots remains limited, health-workers across the continent possess mobile phones. This article draws on interviews from Ghana and Malawi to ask whether/how health-workers are using their phones informally and with what consequences. Health-workers were found to use personal mobile phones for a wide range of purposes: obtaining help in emergencies; communicating with patients/colleagues; facilitating community-based care, patient monitoring and medication adherence; obtaining clinical advice/information and managing logistics. However, the costs were being borne by the health-workers themselves, particularly by those at the lower echelons, in rural communities, often on minimal stipends/salaries, who are required to ‘care’ even at substantial personal cost. Although there is significant potential for ‘informal mhealth’ to improve (rural) healthcare, there is a risk that the associated moral and political economies of care will reinforce existing socioeconomic and geographic inequalities.
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