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Mobile Phones to Help Meet Health Needs in Brazil's Indigenous Communities

Studies Commissioned by the United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Identify Opportunities for Mobiles to Help Close Health Information and Service Delivery Gaps

Barcelona, Spain and Washington, DC —   February 15, 2011

The United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation today announced a new initiative to identify how mobile technology can increase access to healthcare in Brazil’s indigenous communities.  Project partners include the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Brazilian Ministry of Health, who will lead an analysis of opportunities for mobile health (mHealth) programs to support the delivery of health information and services to indigenous communities in areas far removed from central health clinics and providers.

The research is now underway in Brazil and was announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. The findings will be published this summer as part of a series of reports that identify how mobile technology can improve access to health information and services in remote and resource-poor environments.

“In many of the world’s most remote regions, mobile networks are now connecting communities to information and services at an unprecedented level, providing opportunities to deliver health benefits to traditionally underserved populations,” said Kathy Calvin, CEO of the UN Foundation.  “This collaboration with the Vodafone Foundation, PAHO and the Brazilian Ministry of Health will focus on one community to determine how wireless communications can be used to improve health outcomes in some of Brazil’s hardest to reach communities.”

Brazil’s indigenous communities face many health challenges because of limited transportation infrastructure, a lack of proper equipment needed to transport vital vaccines and medical equipment, and the limitations of the paper-based health data collection systems that are still used in these communities.

“During the past five years, we’ve seen an increase in routine immunization coverage of indigenous populations in Brazil, but it continues to hover under the national targets set by the National Immunization Program,” said Brendan Flannery of PAHO.  “The Brazilian Ministry of Health intends to use this study as a springboard for the integration of mobile technologies that strengthen health services in some of its most vulnerable communities.”

“Mobile technology can strengthen health systems by increasing the quantity, quality and timeliness of health data,” said Adele Waugaman, Senior Director of the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership.  “By undertaking this targeted analysis to identify specific health information bottlenecks in one community before considering mobile solutions, the Brazilian Health Ministry will ensure it builds an mHealth program that can deliver maximum results and the most value for the money.” 

Landscape Analysis Published Today
The research now underway in Brazil focuses on one community, building on the broader findings of the first publication in this series, entitled Health Information and Health Care: The Role of Technology in Unlocking Data and Wellness. This broad-based paper was published today by the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation, in collaboration with the mHealth Alliance (mHA). 

The discussion paper examines three key health domains—disease surveillance, supply chains, and human resources—and identifies critical bottlenecks in data collection and transfer.  The report highlights opportunities for improving maternal and newborn health by using information and communications technologies, particularly mobile technology, to streamline health information flows. 

“The ubiquity of mobile devices presents a unique opportunity to break through an often fragmented universe of health data and to help facilitate the flow of health information, whether through simple voice calls, SMS messaging, or wireless data transmission,” said Jody Ranck, lead author of the report. “Moreover, when data is shared readily from the village level to central health systems and back again, it can help prevent stock-outs of key medical supplies and other immediate problems, while promoting accountability and providing practitioners with knowledge of how the data they collect is being used.”

The authors further identify common ground on which technologists and public health professionals can work together to develop innovative strategies to strengthen health systems. The report includes content contributed by sector experts Ramesh Krishnamurthy of the Health Metrics Network of WHO, Dykki Settle of IntraHealth, and David Lubinski of PATH International.

The full series of reports will be available at www.HealthUnBound.org, or HUB, an online meeting place for those who care about transforming health systems to improve health outcomes using digital information technologies. Comments on the report released today are encouraged.  A panel discussing the findings of the report series is expected at the GSMA-mHA Mobile Health Summit, June 6 to 9, 2011 in Cape Town, South Africa.

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About the UN Foundation & Vodafone Foundation Partnership
The Technology Partnership between the United Nations Foundation & Vodafone Foundation is a leading public-private alliance using technology programs to strengthen the UN’s humanitarian efforts worldwide.  Created in October 2005 with a £10 million commitment from The Vodafone Foundation matched by £5 million from the UN Foundation, the Partnership has three core areas of focus: (1) to strengthen communications in humanitarian emergencies though capacity building and support for disaster response missions; (2) to support the development of mobile health (mHealth) programs that tackle critical public health challenges and improve public health systems, decision-making and, ultimately, patient outcomes; and (3) to promote research and innovation using technology as a tool for international development. The UN Foundation and The Vodafone Foundation are among the founding partners of the mHealth Alliance. More information about the Technology Partnership can be found at: www.unfoundation.org/vodafone.

About the mHealth Alliance
The mHealth Alliance (mHA) mobilizes innovation to deliver quality health at the furthest reaches of wireless networks and mobile devices. Working with diverse partners, the mHA advances mHealth through research, advocacy, and support for the development of interoperable solutions and sustainable deployment models. The mHA sponsors innovation challenges and conferences, leads cross-sector mHealth initiatives, and hosts HUB (Health UnBound), a global online community for resource sharing and collaborative solution generation. Founding partners include the Rockefeller Foundation, United Nations Foundation and Vodafone Foundation, PEPFAR, the GSM Association, and HP. More information is available at: www.mHealthAlliance.org.

About the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) is an international public health agency with over 100 years of experience working to improve health and living standards of the people of the Americas. It enjoys international recognition as part of the United Nations system, serving as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization, and as the health organization of the Inter-American System. The Organization's essential mission is to strengthen national and local health systems and improve the health of the peoples of the Americas, in collaboration with Ministries of Health, other government and international agencies, nongovernmental organizations, universities, social security agencies, community groups, and many others.

Press contacts:
In Barcelona, Spain:  Megan Dold, mdold@unfoundation.org, (+1) 708 220 8879
In Washington, D.C.:  Sarah Hiller, shiller@unfoundation.org, (+1) 202 887 9040

 

 
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