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ICTs for a Sustainable World #ICT4SDG

Speech by ITU Secretary-General, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré 

ITU-BUPA Private RoundTable Breakfast 
The Role of MHealth in Transforming the Health of the World 
 Welcome Remarks
31st January 2014, London, United Kingdom

Thank you Mr Leitch (Bupa Chairman) for the introduction.
Good morning everyone.

It is a real pleasure to be here with you this morning at this roundtable breakfast that ITU is co-hosting with BUPA, together with a great gathering from distinguished guests representing technology, telecom, pharmaceutical, healthcare & wellness sectors as well as UN, NGOs, Donors, Foundations and governments.

Back in November last year, we had the pleasure to sign a ground-breaking partnership agreement with Bupa, to collaborate on a global ‘m-Health’ initiative that ITU has launched with WHO: the  ‘Be Healthy, Be Mobile’ initiative to combat Non-communicable Disease (NCDs).

I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some thoughts and perspectives on this recent initiative and partnership with BUPA.

In the 21st century, information and communication technologies, ICTs, have become key enablers in every facet of human activity, and mobile cellular has become the most widely-adopted technology in human history.

Indeed, by the end of 2013, there were almost as many mobile cellular subscriptions as there are people on the planet, and well over 90% of the world’s population is already covered by a mobile cellular network.

Mobile phones have unique advantages in the health sector, in being available, accessible, affordable and portable – as well as being both innovative and empowering.

They provide access to services for those who are not easily able to engage with the formal health system – including women as well as marginalized, illiterate, poor and disabled populations – and they provide a platform which is available 24/7.

In this regard, I was very pleased to be able to jointly launch, with Margaret Chan, the Be Healthy, Be Mobile initiative late 2012.

Be Healthy, Be Mobile focuses on the use of mobile technology to respond to NCDs – which we all know remain the biggest killer of our time in the areas of prevention, treatment and policy enforcement.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since the launch of the initiative, we were very encouraged to work with the Costa Rican health ministry to implement a national mHealth service to help smokers quit, using SMS-based intervention, with the support of ITU and WHO.

We are now moving to our second country, Senegal, to launch an mDiabetes programme to help the prevention and control of Diabetes, and also to provide training opportunities to community health workers as well as General Practitioners, especially in rural areas.

Further interventions will follow in other countries such as Russia and Zambia to tackle other NCDs including hypertension, cancer, and others, and to address their risk factors by focusing on promoting healthier lifestyles.

The initiative is targeting eight countries in four years in different regions, and in particular countries with a high disease burden that can show strong leadership as a model that we can share with the rest of the world.

There are numerous mHealth pilots in the world. However these pilots, while often successful, have failed to scale up. New mHealth products and services face many challenges that can lead to failure; they can be too complicated, incompatible with other systems, under-funded with no clear sustainability mechanisms and business models, or fail to show concrete evidence of their impact.

ITU and WHO are well-positioned as the lead UN agencies for ICTs and health to create a collaboration platform and to work with all stakeholders to address many of those challenges.

This initiative recognizes the particular strengths of the private sector – recognizing that the resources of government and philanthropy alone are insufficient to address the world’s biggest challenges, such as the NCD epidemic.

Many of you have already started to explore how mobile can strengthen your value-proposition and improve patient services, so that patients can take better control of their conditions.

We acknowledge that private sector companies, through their business operations and practices, expertise and products can make strong positive impacts to reduce the global, national and individual burdens of the NCD epidemic.

Civil Society organizations have also a lot to offer in terms of reaching the underserved, targeting all user groups and involving local communities.

We aim to build innovative partnership models that should be built on well-defined and agreed upon goal/targets and leveraging the competitive advantages of each of your sector while, regardless of whether players’ incentives are commercial or social – or a mix of the two –, any mHealth project needs to understand what those incentives are and how much each value chain member needs to “give” and “get” for the project to function sustainably.

Distinguished guests,

Technology will continue to transform how care is provided, and I am therefore inviting you to seize this opportunity and to be at the forefront and among the first movers – for the benefit of your organizations as well as for end users and public health.

I hope that the individual organizations and companies in the room will also come forward and join the initiative, along with other partners who have joined the initiative already like BUPA, Verizon, NCD Alliance and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA).

So let me close by challenging all of you to come up with innovative solutions through new forms of partnerships and alliances.

Thank you.