Background: Access to mobile phone technology has rapidly expanded in developing countries. In Africa, mHealth is a relatively new concept and questions arise regarding reliability of the technology used for health outcomes. This review documents strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) of mHealth projects in Africa.
Methods: A systematic review of peer-reviewed literature on mHealth projects in Africa, between 2003 and 2013, was carried out using PubMed and OvidSP. Data was synthesized using a SWOT analysis methodology. Results were grouped to assess specific aspects of project implementation in terms of sustainability and mid/long-term results, integration to the health system, management process, scale-up and replication, and legal issues, regulations and standards.
Results: Forty-four studies on mHealth projects in Africa were included and classified as: "patient follow-up and medication adherence" (n = 19), "staff training, support and motivation" (n = 2), "staff evaluation, monitoring and guidelines compliance" (n = 4), "drug supply-chain and stock management" (n = 2), "patient education and awareness" (n = 1), "disease surveillance and intervention monitoring" (n = 4), "data collection/transfer and reporting" (n = 10) and "overview of mHealth projects" (n = 2). In general, mHealth projects demonstrate positive health-related outcomes and their success is based on the accessibility, acceptance and low-cost of the technology, effective adaptation to local contexts, strong stakeholder collaboration, and government involvement. Threats such as dependency on funding, unclear healthcare system responsibilities, unreliable infrastructure and lack of evidence on cost-effectiveness challenge their implementation. mHealth projects can potentially be scaled-up to help tackle problems faced by healthcare systems like poor management of drug stocks, weak surveillance and reporting systems or lack of resources.
Conclusions: mHealth in Africa is an innovative approach to delivering health services. In this fast-growing technological field, research opportunities include assessing implications of scaling-up mHealth projects, evaluating cost-effectiveness and impacts on the overall health system.