Mobile phones can call for health, education and safety, UNICEF says

11 February 2009

Cell phones can play an important role in education, crisis situations, and in monitoring health and nutrition, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stressed today at the opening of a conference on innovation.

The conference, called “Web4Dev: Innovation for Access” and hosted by UNICEF, brings together academics, experts in technology, UN officials and development professionals to explore the application of new and existing communication technologies to dire problems in poor and isolated areas of the world.

“The task here this week is to put innovation and technology at the service of humanity,” Ann Veneman, UNICEF’s Executive Director, said as she opened the three-day meeting in New York.

She cited as an example a health-monitoring initiative in Malawi, led by UNICEF and Columbia University, which allows rural health workers to use mobile phone technology to relay data on children’s health and nutrition and receive instant, expert advice on critical interventions.

That initiative known as the “RapidSMS” text-messaging system, shared first prize in the United States development agency’s innovation competition, known as the “Development 2.0 Challenge” last year.

Web4Dev: Innovation for Access is the fifth in a series of annual UN events that discuss the impact of modern technologies on development, with previous events hosted by the World Bank (2003, 2005), the UN Department of Public Information and the Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development (2006) and UN-HABITAT (2007).

This year the four main themes are: improving access to information and establishing communities of practice; knowledge-sharing; the use of technology for monitoring and evaluation; and the delivery of supply-chain items in remote locations and in emergency situations, according to a UNICEF press release.


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