By Emmanuel Elebeke
Despite heavy investments directed towards the provisions of social services in Africa, quality and access to service delivery remains disappointing.This is experienced more in the health sector. However, a recent study by Brookings Center for Technology Innovation, has pointed accusing fingers at the spending. The report, titled: ‘ Mobile technology and mHealth: The newest frontline in health care innovations in Africa’ says there was a large volume of empirical evidence showing that, for many developing countries, there is only a weak connection between spending on public services and service delivery outcomes.
According the report, merely increasing the amount of resources devoted to a service does not necessarily translate into positive results against the high expectations. The reasons for this outcome are inefficiencies and weak accountability across service delivery chains, compounded by a paucity of functional infrastructure that make it difficult and costly for the poor to access services.
The report however noted that “mobile phone-based technological innovations are changing the service delivery landscape in Africa, especially among poor populations and those living in fragile states. “The mobile phone revolution that first overcame previously difficult insurmountable communication problems in countries with poor communications infrastructure has revolutionized many other sectors of the economy.
“Although, mobile money is the most commonly used application, it is believed that there is now a wide array of mobile technology applications, such as in health care and agricultural services, helping overcome traditional service delivery problems that have hitherto undermined access to those services. “Not only are these innovations leapfrogging traditional service delivery constraints, they are also expanding the service delivery frontier, making more and better services available with any given level of resources.
“It is probably in the area of mobile health (mHealth) that we have observed major returns in terms of improvements in the quality of life,” said the report. Agreeing with the report, Vice President and Director of the Brookings Governance Studies program, Darrell West admitted that mHealth applications in Africa are already showing returns in terms of human welfare.
He revealed that the wide range of applications of mobile technologies in delivery of health services and, importantly, under varying contexts are justified by their impacts, noting that the case of how mobile innovations have been used in the war against Ebola is particularly telling and shows the potential for mobile technological innovations to deal with otherwise complex health challenges.
He noted that discussions on the experience of mHealth applications in Africa are quite pertinent at this time when negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda are approaching the final leg. While there is a tendency for many to focus on the financing of development goals, which is key, he said, there was need to focus more on strategies to improve service delivery.
“Innovations in mobile technologies have shown that the service delivery frontier can be greatly expanded at a relatively low cost than traditional approaches. It is quite apparent they are scalable, as has been observed in the case of mobile financial services. Beyond discussing the many actual and potential applications of mobile innovations, there is a need to consider policy options to stimulate such innovations,” West added.