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Leem Meeting / Francophone Countries in Partnership with L'Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie

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

The Battle Against Non-Communicable Diseases : A Shared Responsibility

18 May 2014, Geneva, Switzerland


Distinguished colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure and an honour to be here with you at this round table this afternoon, organized by "Les entreprises des médicaments LEEM" in partnership with the "Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie" to discuss how the responsibility to combat Non Communicable Diseases is indeed a shared one.

At the International Telecommunication Union, we believe that technology, and particularly mobile communications and devices, will significantly contribute to combating NCDs and to achieving better health outcomes.

As the world changes, and as we become increasingly interconnected, we are entering an era of unparalleled opportunity. We are in the midst of a digital explosion around the globe which is allowing us to be more connected and which is giving us greater access to data than ever before.

By the end of this year – according to the latest ITU forecasts, released just last week – there will be almost as many mobile cellular subscriptions as there are people on the planet by the end of this year, and three billion people will be online.

Seizing this opportunity, many pharmaceutical companies have already started to explore how mobile can strengthen their value-proposition and improve patient services, so that patients can take better control of their healthcare.

Several mHealth solutions have already been developed by some of you to:

In this regard, I was very pleased at the end of 2012 to be able to jointly launch, with Dr Chan, the Director-General of WHO, the Be Healthy, Be Mobile initiative.

Be Healthy, Be Mobile focuses on the use of mobile technology to respond to non-communicable diseases – which remain the biggest killer of our time, causing 63% of all deaths annually – in the areas of prevention, treatment and policy enforcement, and targeting specific disease risk factors.

We were also very pleased to have signed a cooperation agreement last year with IFPMA to support this initiative.

Last year and in support for the initiative, IFPMA published an important publication entitled 'Health at your Fingertips' documenting a wide array of mHealth programs carried out by IFPMA member companies and associations.

This is a great example of how the private sector, and particularly pharmaceutical companies, can play an important role in contributing to advancing the use of technology for the benefit of all.

In the first year of the initiative we started working with three countries – Costa Rica, Senegal and Zambia.

In Costa Rica, we have supported the government in implementing the world's first national mHealth service to help smokers quit, using SMS-based intervention.

The Costa Rica mCessation programme, which is being promoted by the national soccer team, aims to reach out to the larger smoking population.

At its launch, 1,000 people were signing up a week. Smokers wanting to quit receive tailored messages and support. The government will be able to monitor in real time how many people sign up, how many people attempt to quit, and how many people successfully quit after six months.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Senegal came to us with a concern about diabetes – because over 80% of their diabetics are undiagnosed.

The Be Healthy, Be Mobile initiative is therefore working with Senegal to increase awareness and patient education about diabetes through SMS messages, using cell phones to train health workers, and delivering remote consultation services as well as providing treatment and management support for diabetics.

Finally, Zambia has one of the highest prevalencies of cervical cancer in the world – and despite national efforts, it has been a challenge to ensure the screening of all women.

In Zambia we are therefore starting to provide national SMS-based services to the country's women, to encourage them to be screened for cervical cancer and to provide follow up services by mobile.

The Be Healthy, Be Mobile 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.

What is really exciting about these country programmes is that they are national. We are not talking about pilots here. We are talking about sustained government programmes. The infrastructure developed in these countries can be added to over time to include a multitude of additional mobile solutions for their citizens.

The data coming out of these national NCD mHealth programmes will be able to provide relevant data to patients, health care workers, health care providers and governments, as well as to health entrepreneurs and donors, to help them tackle NCDs in the future.

I sincerely believe that future generations will look back on mobile technologies as one of the great public health success stories – in just the same way that we look back on the successful implementation of clean water and sanitation, immunisation and antibiotics.

Distinguished colleagues,

The Be Healthy, Be Mobile initiative takes advantage of 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.

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.

We are building innovative partnership models that should be based on well-defined and agreed-upon goals and targets, leveraging the competitive advantages of your sector while, regardless of whether players' incentives are commercial or social – or a mix of the two.

To do this successfully, any mHealth project needs to evaluate what those incentives are, and how much each value chain member needs to 'give' or 'get' for the project to function sustainably.

I am delighted that IFPMA is already a supporter of our mHealth initiatives, and I am counting on your continuous support over the coming years.

We are already in discussions with other individual pharmaceutical companies that will hopefully come forward soon and join our initiatives, along with other partners from the telecoms, insurance and healthcare sectors.

Ladies and gentlemen,

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

As many of you know, I am an optimist – and I am happy to be able to say that my optimism has been generously rewarded.

We have achieved much, together – and together, we will achieve much, much more.

Thank you.