$400M UN health improvement plan goes mobile

Mobile healthcare is now officially part of a global strategy to improve the health of women and children.

The United Nations Foundation and several partners are committing $400 million toward making childbirth safer, vaccinating children, reducing infant mortality and combating malaria, and mobile technologies are a big part of the strategy.

As part of the effort, the foundation last week launched the Maternal and Newborn mHealth Initiative, by which a coalition of not-for-profits will develop and try to widely deploy unspecified mobile health technologies to address problems related to maternal health in developing countries. The organization also said it would work with the Health Metrics Network, the World Health Organization, the U.S President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Rockefeller Foundation and others to build a web-based "global information and experience sharing system" for mobile and e-health.

The programs are meant to address child health and maternal health are two of the eight Millennium Development Goals that the UN identified in 2000 to help improve standards of living around the world.

While the UN Foundation didn't provide many details of the plan, foundation CEO Kathy Calvin gave an interview with the U.S. Agency for International Development in which she discussed the organization's partnership with the Vodafone Foundation and its participation in the mHealth Alliance.

"After a two-year evaluation with the World Health Organization and the World Food Program, we came up with two areas in which their programs might be improved with better use of technology. One was in emergency response. The World Food Program and the UN Foundation have partnered with Vodafone to do a much better job of providing emergency communications response capacity, which was most recently demonstrated in Haiti," Calvin said.

"The other area was in data collection around health issues. When health workers were going out on vaccination campaigns or were tracking outbreaks of diseases or tracking stock-outs of commodities, such as condoms, they would typically write it down on a piece of paper and send it someplace. And maybe three months later, it would be noted."

Calvin added, "now, they're using handheld devices; in some cases, cellular phones. Even in the poorest of regions, mobile phones are prevalent. So that turned out to be a really tremendous leap for WHO and other health workers.

"That led us to realize that there many obstacles to broadscale adoption of mobile technology for a broad array of health uses, whether they be diagnostic or reminders about taking drugs or data collection."

To learn more:
- see this UN Foundation press release
- read Calvin's interview with USAID FrontLines