The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have launched the mobile health or ‘mHealth’ Initiative – a new partnership that aims to help tackle NCDs using mobile technology, in particular text messaging and apps.

This partnership follows the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) held in New York in 2011 and highlights development of innovative, multi-sector solutions as part of the global approach in tackling the increasing prevalence of NCDs.

The initiative uses mHealth technologies including health text messaging, mobile phone apps, remote monitoring and portable sensors in the fight against NCDs. Through the initiative, ITU and WHO will provide evidence-based and operational guidance to encourage partners to implement ‘mHealth’ interventions to address the prevention and treatment of NCDs and their common risk factors.

According to statistics from WHO, NCDs contribute to an estimated 36 million deaths every year, including 14 million people dying between the ages of 30 and 70. With mobile telephone technology, mHealth practices can reduce healthcare costs significantly, help save lives and reduce illness and disability.

Running for a four-year period, the ITU-WHO mHealth initiative will involve partnerships between governments, non-government organisations (NGOs) and the private sector – both on the global and national levels. The initiative also builds on existing health systems and current NCDs surveillance projects such as the Global Adult Tobacco Surveillance system, which uses mobile phones to capture data on tobacco use in 17 countries.

At the international level, partners will share knowledge and technical expertise to help develop the standard operating procedure for each mHealth intervention as well as build support for the initiative. Nationally, governments will work closely with ITU and WHO to drive the operational projects.

ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun I. Touré said that the widespread availability of mobile technology, even in lesser developed countries, has given rise to the opportunity in expanding e-health systems.

“By joining forces, ITU and WHO will fight against debilitating non-communicable diseases that can be controlled through the intervention of mHealth solutions and services that are at once cost effective, scalable and sustainable,” he said.