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
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)