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 Monday, October 08, 2012

One of the most prominent themes of this week’s General Assembly has been using low-cost mobile technology to achieve Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 4 and 5: drastically lowering child mortality while boosting maternal and reproductive health in developing nations.

Since there could be 50 billion mobile devices with broadband access by 2017, as Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg predicted at the recent Social Good Summit, it’s no wonder that mobile phones are being harnessed in areas that may be remote and resource-limited, but are no longer disconnected from global health solutions. Here’s a look of three nascent initiatives using mobile technology to create a global health impact:

1. Perhaps the most effective means of empowering women in developing nations to make informed health-care decisions is through basic, adaptable messaging. For the past year, USAID, Johnson & Johnson, and the mHealth alliance have developed the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) to connect with over 20 million expectant and new mothers in 35 countries. Using simple mobile technology, MAMA offers vital health information on everything from swaddling to breast-feeding to immunizations.

MAMA has already been effective in South Africa, Indonesia and Bangladesh, where expectant and new mothers now have access (often for the first time) to a global sharing of timely, topical, culturally relevant health information.

2. Medic Mobile transcends the communication and geographic obstacles that all too often limit the efforts of health-care workers in developing nations. As CEO Josh Nesbit told the Social Good Summit audience, Medic Mobile started out by equipping 100 frontline community health workers in Malawi with mobile phones to facilitate essential services for pregnant women and newborn babies.

Nesbit saw the opportunity to offer critical care services in remote areas by harnessing a mobile phone infrastructure that already existed. Considering WHO’s assessment that half of all maternal deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa, and that there are more cell phones on the African continent than in the United States, Nesbit’s plan made perfect sense.

3. The next frontier in improving the health of mothers and children is digitizing food assistance. Enter the Better than Cash Alliance, which is helping some of the world’s most indigent populations by transitioning from cash payments to electronic aid, creating a “cash-lite” world.

Through mobile phones and text messages, the Better than Cash Alliance can deliver digital food vouchers, or “e-vouchers”, that enable people to buy food from local markets. According to WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, “By 2015, WFP expects 30 percent of its assistance programs to be delivered in the form of cash and digital food”.

(Source: The Interdependent)