A growing number of organizations are researching or releasing modified mobile phones and mobile apps that diagnose serious health problems and disease patterns. Mobile health, or mHealth, could help ease medical costs and support areas’ health infrastructures, especially in developing countries. Applied Nanodetectors (AND) has released a modified Nokia phone (picture right) that with a breathalyzer detects health problems as wide ranging as diabetes and cancer by reading the levels of gasses such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide and ammonia. The phone can also detect lung cancer, bad breath, types of food poisoning and blood-alcohol levels. The phone informs its user’s doctor of its findings.

target="_blank">UCLA researchers have designed a phone that analyzes blood for malaria, HIV and other diseases. The phone’s LUCAS imager (Lensfree Ultrawide-field Cell-monitoring Array platform based on Shadow imaging) uses short-wavelength blue light to analyze blood, saliva or other fluid samples.

Other mobile "doctor in your pocket" applications were exhibited at Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress last week. Some send messages to users reminding them to take their medication, get vaccinations or HIV tests. Others monitor people with heart problems or Alzheimer’s disease.

Phones can also be used as part of a network to report disease outbreaks.

Health-monitoring phones will be especially useful in developing countries, where access to health care is limited.

"When you consider that there are 2.2 billion mobile phones in the developing world, 305 million computers but only 11 million hospital beds you can instantly see how mobiles can create effective solutions to address healthcare challenges," said Terry Kramer, strategy director at Vodafone.

Also last week, The UN Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and the Vodaphone Foundation announced a joint initiative called the Mobile Health (mHealth) Alliance, which will “will act as an umbrella organization to complement, draw together and expand upon the mHealth initiatives of multiple organizations around the world.”

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By Mark Alvarez