With the widespread use of mobile phones in the Global South, digital tools are attracting growing interest from international aid actors as well as local governments – positioning digital technology as an essential driver of economic growth and an obvious solution to many social problems. Initiated by multiple actors from the digital industry, these programs reconfigure the state, the rights of citizens, the perimeter and access to health services. Through the study of the Motech Global Mobile Health Program (mHealth) implemented in Ghana and India to improve maternal health, this paper explores the way in which processes of medical globalization and privatization come into being through digital technology. It shows how forms of philanthrocapitalism drive such digital programs. By confronting the stories of the techy philanthropists promoting such solutions and the global south’s mothers that are supposedly benefiting from it, this paper also illustrates the gap between the promise of better healthcare offered by such digital solution and the realities experienced on the ground by its users, on gender and empowerment issues or accessibility and quality of healthcare.
- mHealth programs pretend to be universal, more accessible and cost-effective than traditional maternal health programs, but by focusing on information delivery, the device sidesteps the complex assemblage of dynamics and determinants of health that compose any given healthcare system.
- The segmented view of health through technologies, proposed by Gates’ global health programs more generally, dodges social and economic issues rooted in healthcare.
- The empowerment offered by mHealth, far from being liberating and political, is instrumental and individualistic. mHealth embodies perfectly a reductionist view of gendered power relations and domination that offers to compensate gender inequalities by sending unquestionable centralized and automated information.
- mhealth is too often limited to the dissemination of health information and does not allow the creation of a dialogue between the health system and its users, the possibility of an interaction that would better identify and address some of the structural barriers to healthcare.
- Our central argument is also that having positive health outcomes is not the primary goal of these mhealth programs. The central goal is to test new digital products for untapped markets in the Global South.
- mHealth has no proven positive impact on maternal health outcomes but still it manages to exist and to expand in the past ten years.