Moving toward mWellness: Shaping the future of mobile innovation and health

Mobile health—or mHealth—has been a buzz phrase in the global health field for years. Now, following a February USC conference, experts are examining ways in which mobile technologies can contribute not just to immediate health interventions, but to wellness overall.

Non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung disease, dominate health care needs and spending in all high and most low and middle-income countries. They cause an estimated 36 million deaths every year, including 9 million people dying prematurely before the age of 60.

In recognition of this global threat, in 2012 the World Health Organization partnered with the International Telecommunication Union to launch the Be He@lthy, Be Mobile initiative, which focuses on the use of mobile technology in preventing and controlling NCDs.

Part of the initiative, the 2014 Global mWellness Workshop at USC brought together a broad coalition of United Nations, government, academic and private sector partners to establish ways to implement national programs targeting diet, physical activity, stress and risk factor management.

“This pioneering workshop embodies USC’s trans-disciplinary approach to global health,” said Heather Wipfli, USC Institute for Global Health associate director and organizer of the workshop.

“With the number of mobile-cellular subscriptions approaching 7 billion worldwide, now is the time to take advantage of the growing capacity to drive behavior change through handheld devices.”

Attendees included academics, government officials and representatives from ITU, WHO, Nike, Verizon, Bupa and Qualcomm, among others. They are currently drafting a practical steps document to launch national mWellness programs in select countries in the Be He@althy, Be Mobile initiative.

USC students partook in the conference through the third annual USC Global Health Case Competition, for which the conference participants served as judges. Written with the WHO, this year’s case challenge asked students to construct mWellness solutions to control and prevent non-communicable diseases.

The winning team, comprising five undergraduates, proposed a national “dancersize” program in the Philippines. The students will represent USC at the International Emory Global Health Case Competition at the end of the month.