Egypt, Saudi Arabia plan nationwide mobile health

By Brian Dolan

iPhoneEgyptQualcomm is working with regional governments and mobile operators in the Middle East to create country-wide mobile health systems within the next three to five years, according to a report in Reuters. Qualcomm is currently looking into opening offices in both Saudi Arabia and Egypt in mid-2011.

Jay Srage, Qualcomm's vice-president for business development in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, noted that Saudi Arabia has budgeted $6 billion for eHealth spending in 2010 out of a total $16.7 billion for healthcare spending this year.

Srage envisions simple applications rolling out in the region during the next year: A rural patient could send a photo of a skin ailment to a specialist for diagnosis. Similarly portable ultrasound machines could be used in rural clinics and evaluated in medical centers elsewhere. Following the assumed success of these simpler applications, Srage believes that heart monitoring services would come to the market and eventually build up to national eHealth markets – the full roadmap was not laid out in the article, of course.

During a panel session at the Healthcare Unbound event in San Diego last month, Don Jones, the vice president of business development for Qualcomm’s Health & Life Sciences group, noted that Summit, a joint venture of Egypt's mobile operator Orascom and Japanese technology firm Sumitomo, was working to create a mobile health exchange for ultrasound images throughout Egypt. Basically the aim of the project was to enable all medical professionals in Egypt to share DICOM images with each other over wireless networks.

Of the countries mentioned in the Reuters report, however, Egypt has the lowest smartphone adoption rate: Srage said that smartphone penetration in the region is highest in the United Arab Emirates, where 15 percent of the market uses smartphones. That’s less than but close to the 20 to 24 percent of people in the US who use smartphones. According to Srage, Saudi Arabia has about 11 percent smartphone penetration and Egypt has about 6 or 7 percent.

Smartphone penetration for the region has grown from about 2 percent to between 5 to 10 percent in just two years, according to Srage. The overall 3G market in the region will grow about 35 percent year-over-year during the next three years, according to Srage.

For more on the Reuters report, read the full article here