Mobile phones, adapted to monitor child health, net UNICEF top development prize

9 January 2009

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) will share first prize in the United States Development Agency’s innovation competition, known as the “Development 2.0 Challenge,” for adapting basic cell phones to monitor the health of children in danger of malnutrition.

The “RapidSMS” text-messaging system, to be finalized by graduate students from Columbia University, which shared in the prize, was first developed in Ethiopia to monitor food supplies and will now be used to map and track child malnutrition trends in Malawi more accurately and in real time, enabling quick responses to unfolding food and nutritional crises, according to UNICEF.

“This is a perfect example of UNICEF’s vision of bringing together experts from around the world and from diverse fields such as academia, private sector and civil society,” Sharad Sapra, Director of UNICEF’s Division of Communication, said.

The initial phases of the Malawi project are expected to run from January to May of 2009. However, the collaborative and open-source philosophy it is based on means that anyone can take, use and adapt RapidSMS for their purposes, UNICEF stressed.

“The aim is to leverage this global knowledge and create solutions which help achieve lasting benefits for children,” Dr. Sapra said.


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