Health advice smartphone app launches in South Africa

A smartphone app designed and launched in South Africa is quite literally a pocket doctor for those who can afford the mobile phones required.

Image caption Afridoctor is currently more popular outside of Africa.

Afridoctor is a virtual health clinic, created by technology company Blueworld Communities based in Cape Town.

It offers a "snapdiagnosis" service, in which patients can send pictures of their ailments to a panel of doctors who will then reply with a diagnosis within 48 hours.

"It is more for external use - like dermatology - for things like a bee sting or a snake bite and you don't know what to do or how to diagnose it," said Werner Erasmus who created the app.

Educate and inform

Other key features of Afridoctor include "find a doctor" and "distress" as well as first aid tips and a symptom checker.

The "find a doctor" system uses Google Maps to geo-locate local health services including doctors, hospitals and emergency clinics.

The distress feature enables users to contact a family member or friend at the touch of a button.

By storing the mobile phone number of a chosen next of kin, they will then be notified of the phone's location when the distress button is pressed.

Despite its African origins, the application is proving more popular outside the continent.

"All the requests we tend to get for snapdiagnosis are from overseas. There have so far been 20,000 downloads of the app," said Mr Erasmus.

"With the snapdiagnosis, we haven't had that much feedback because most people in Africa don't have smartphones - they're using second generation mobile phones."

The wider market

When Nokia launched a competition inviting entrants to design apps for its upmarket mobile models, Blueworld Communities developed Afridoctor in three weeks and submitted it.

It was the winning entry. The company is now refining and testing a version of the app that will work on more basic Nokia phones and WAP enabled handsets.

However the app's creator Werner Erasmus feels that smartphone technology will become popular in the continent very soon.

"Africa will have smartphones in about two to three years, it's just a question of time."

Digital Planet is the BBC World Service's weekly technology programme. Catch up with previous episodes or download the podcast.

This article was updated on 30 June 2010 to clarify that Afridoctor is not just being developed for smartphones as previously stated.

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