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The Power of Technology

Is astounding.
A British doctor volunteering in DR Congo used text message instructions from a colleague to perform a life-saving amputation on a boy. Vascular surgeon David Nott helped the 16-year-old while working 24-hour shifts with medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in Rutshuru. The boy's left arm had been ripped off and was badly infected and gangrenous. Mr Nott, 52, from London, had never performed the operation but followed instructions from a colleague who had.
It's unclear whether the boy had been bitten by a hippopotamus or been caught in the midst of the violence in eastern Congo (my guess, unfortunately, is the latter), but in either case , this is a profound example using technology for social -- and life-saving -- change. (image from flickr user JonJon2k8 under a Creative Commons license)
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Out of Thin Air: Text Messaging for Change at Pop!Tech

by Adele Waugaman Abundance and scarcity -- this dichotomy is increasingly framing the most important global challenges of the day, particularly in the midst of the ongoing global financial crisis. So, it was with great interest that I attended the Pop!Tech conference last week bringing technology to bear on that theme. Pop!Tech was packed with mobile innovators with cool projects. For instance, Erik Hersman is working on, a project using "crowd-sourced" data to populate maps of violent outbreaks in volatile environments. Ushahidi was recently used in Kenya during the post-election violence. And Ken Banks presented FrontlineSMS, which provides free software that can be downloaded from the web to harness the power of text messaging to power work of NGOs and humanitarian groups. Already FrontlineSMS has been used by UNDP in Aceh as part of the post-tsunami reconstruction efforts and in Malawi to power a healthcare network, among other projects. .
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A Big Announcement on Mobile Phones and Global Public Health

Regular readers of this blog know that we have been following the work of DataDyne--the nonprofit (sponsored by the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation) that developed a software application for mobile phone devices that enables public health workers in developing countries to collect data more efficiently. Yesterday, the UN Foundation (which sponsors this blog) and the Vodafone Foundation, together with the World Health Organization announced that its EpiSurveyor program will expand to 22 sub-Saharan African countries by the end of the year. Over on the ZDNet blog Tech for Change, a Kenyan public health worker who participated in the EpiSurveyor pilot program last year describes how this technology made his work much, much easier.
It used to be that much of this work was done on paper, but following a pilot project that took place in 2007 that is beginning to change. I was a participant in the pilot PDA project using EpiSurveyor--an open-source software for mobile devices--to support our data collection activities in the country. The pilot was led by the non-profit organization DataDyne, and funded by the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation partnership. This technology brings much greater efficiency to what I do. Being able to electronically collect health data means that I don't have to use paper, recording survey data with a pen, and filling out numerous forms and questionnaires. I just input the data into the PDA and then synchronize it to the computer to be analyzed.
An employee of DataDyne who helped train health workers in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo also explains why this technology is so significant. In related news the San Jose, California based Tech Museum of Innovation announced yesterday that it had named DataDyne a 2008 Tech Awards laureate for its groundbreaking work with EpiSurveyor. Congrats!
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Day 4 @ Bellagio: Commitments to mHealth & the Magic of Bellagio

by Katherine Miller, executive director of communications, UN Foundation After four long days in Bellagio, a couple of things are clear. Conferences are conferences -- meaning that even the world's nicest conference facility is still, well, a facility. But there is a certain magic about Bellagio and that was clear by the end of the conference. So while I'm glad to be home, it is also because I'm excited about being back and work and trying to make the ideas that came out the mHealth session something real and help deliver better health care to the developing world. Work that is even more exciting because the group of people who attended the conference -- including representatives from Noikia, Vodafone Group, Gates Foundation, QualComm, Microsoft, and many other companies and NGOs -- all made real, measurable commitments to helping promote the issues related to mHealth both back within their own organizations and with the general public.
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Day 3 @ Bellagio: mHealth = Global Health

By Katherine Miller, Executive Director of Communications, UN Foundation So we've been trapped at the Rockefeller Center at Bellagio for three days now talking about mHealth. While it may seem like an easy job -- who doesn't want to spend a week in Italy, after all -- it isn't. Some of the most experienced global health professionals are here and everyone is trying to figure out what their role, their project, their initiative is. But after nearly a full day of brainstorming, something very exciting happened: our groups came up with five unique yet complimentary projects to help improve health care in the developing world. While its too early to talk specifics, these projects include using hand-mobile devices to deliver health care in rural areas; control and ultimately prevent disease outbreaks; improve the quality of life for patients with chronic diseases; and could lead to greater collaboration among some of the world's biggest and best technology companies. At least I hope so. The best part of the day was listening to the groups run through their nascent business plans and take questions from their colleagues. Not an easy thing to do but they all did it and tomorrow, on Day 4, we're going to try and figure out how to make these projects real. The other thing happening here is a true recognition that partnerships and working together will actually help us to move mHealth into the developing world more quickly. In the beginning, the developers sat with the developers and the corporates with corporates but by day three each of the groups had representatives from each sector and they we're all excited to share expertise, advice and ideas. A really interesting partnership that I have learned about here is the Millennium Villages Project. This project, which is active in more than 20 villages is looking at how to provide education, health care and other services from the ground up. Included in the project are Gates, Ericsson (which is providing the hardware for the villages) and numerous other groups. While still in the early stages, Earth Institute (Jefrey Sach's group) is leading it and it shows great promise as a way to make a big difference in people's lives.
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Day 2 @ Bellagio: Things to keep in mind when trying to get to mHealth 2.0

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What's the problem we're trying to solve seems to be the topic of the day here. It is a question almost everyone who works at a company, foundation, or association (the funders) seems to be asking (including me), and it has been hard for the NGO participants to come to any agreement on the answer. So, thankfully, Mitul and Claire (representing the UN Foundation's Technology Partnership) worked with the facilitators to restructure our agenda, break into smaller working groups and try a project-based approach to answer that question. By focusing the conversation on how you use technology to tackle problems related to community health or what the end goal of better data collection is or how to take projects to scale, we now have four excited and re-energized groups (instead of one larger, slightly cranky one). Each group worked together for about two hours today and will work together again tomorrow before reporting back to the larger group about the problem they're addressing, the technology solution, and then how they involve others (including the United Nations) in their work. I think two things they heard today will also help them focus their plans. Dave Sessions of Microsoft walked everyone through the basic elements of a successful business plan (including know your audience, know what you're trying to do, know how you're unique or bring value to the solution, etc.).
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Day 1 @ Bellagio: Local Impact of mHealth

By Katherine Miller, Executive Director of Communications at the UN Foundation The United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Group Foundation, in cooperation with the Rockefeller Foundation, is hosting a four-day conference to explore an emerging trend, mHealth, that harnesses mobile communications technologies to tackle global health care issues. Around the table are many of the world's recognized leaders in this field (along with some of the biggest funders) and if this first day of conversation is any indication of what's to come, it's going to be an interesting and informative discussion.