“Well over 3.5 billion mobile phones are in use around the world and organizations are harnessing this technology to help overcome humanitarian challenges. Mobile technology is transforming the way advocacy, development and relief organizations accomplish their institutional missions”, according the results of a global survey and a series of case studies in the report Wireless Technology for Social Change: Trends in NGO Mobile Use, released today by the United Nations Foundation and The Vodafone Group Foundation. (The complete report is available at http://www.unfoundation.org/vodafone/communications_publication_series.as).
With increased competition, the costs associated with mobile phones are diminishing. It is no longer a rich person’s gadget but nearly ubiquitous throughout the developing world. Seventy percent of all mobile phone users today are in the developing world. Almost 90 percent of the world’s population is covered by a commercial wireless signal. By 2012 half of all people in rural areas will have mobile phones. So even if a person doesn’t have their own phone, most have access to one.
At the same time, there is an increased understanding of the potential of mobile phones to break barriers of geography and to enhance access to useful information and communication. In a mobile enabled world, people are increasingly connected to each other and to various information sources, and the potential to increase the sources and create more linkages is substantial.
In many of the African countries mHealth (Mobile Health) is being tried out with a wide variety of applications for heath workers, governments and the general public. It makes the such processes as keeping track of people, their appointments and their records fast and efficient. It can deliver checklists to front line health providers to make sure they follow protocols. It can help monitor epidemics, track the progress of vaccination campaigns, measure drug supply stocks, and broadcast health information and public service announcements to millions of people. This is just the tip of the iceberg and many more sophisticated uses are in the process of getting evolved.
While these are exciting and we should do everything to harness the power of the mobile technology, it is important that we are not overwhelmed or distracted by this and keep focused on the most important goals: trained doctors, nurses, health workers, infrastructure, decent salaries for all the workers and robust mechanisms for transparency and accountability. These are finally the building blocks of good health that can be well-complemented by technology assisted services.
What is the potential of technology assisted social change?