NIH has just awarded $2.5 million to spur innovation in mobile communication technologies and software applications used in biomedical research in Low and Middle Income Countries (LMIC). The Fogarty International Center www.fic.nih.gov within NIH awarded the first round of grants from their “Mobile Health: Technology and Outcomes in LIMC” (mHealth) program” www.fic.nih.gov/Programs/Pages/mhealth.aspx. The original funding notice was posted last December.
The new program will support the development of mobile devices and apps to focus on a wide range of public health concerns, including HIV/AIDS, child injury prevention, malaria, tuberculosis, and training community health workers.
The awards went to the Aurum Institute in Johannesburg, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston University, Hunter College of the City University of New York, University of Washington in Seattle, and two awards went to Johns Hopkins University.
In one project, microscopy experts from Beth Israel work with researchers in Nigeria to develop and test an inexpensive and lightweight malaria screening tool. The disposable device will use a set of magnets to separate infected red blood cells from uninfected cells.
The team is going to develop a prototype system that will require less than a drop of blood and able to produce results that can be stored and analyzed using a standard cellphone camera. The device will be tested in the hematology lab at Redeemer’s University in Nigeria, using blood samples from malaria infected patients.
Reducing child injuries at home will be the focus of an initiative being launched by JHU and Malaysia’s Institute for Public Health. The team will create a mobile phone-based app designed to assess household injury risks to Malaysian children under five.
Another grant award to JHU will help streamline household visits and outreach tools used by community health workers in Mali. Working with researchers from the University of Bamako, the team will create a mHealth system able to prioritize key contacts for interpersonal communications, able to send reminders to mobile phones, and help health workers tailor the content of maternal and child health-related messages to the stage of pregnancy and the age of children.
The researchers will also develop a data registry as well as workshops and courses with the goal to produce risk-reducing interventions and develop mHealth research capacity in Malaysia. After the app is evaluated, it will be modified into a preventive tool to be used in other LMIC settings.
Boston University will use the finding to test a new mobile health training platform in Vietnam to use text messaging to provide training to community health workers. Researchers will adapt courses to standard cellphones to potentially expand training opportunities to a much larger number of health workers.
In Kenya, mHealth experts from the University of Washington in Seattle will engineer a tablet-based app designed to facilitate safer conception methods among couples where one partner is HIV-infected and the other is not.
An award administered by Hunter College of the City University of New York, will work to develop a smartphone platform that combines a live chat counseling program and mobile software to track risky sexual behavior in real time to help prevent the spread of HIV among gay men.
Information on applications for www.grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-14-028.html for a second funding round for “Mobile Health: Technology and Outcomes in Low and Middle Income Countries” (R 21) (PAR-14-028) is available. Applications are due February 19, 2015