UNICEF Gets a Little Bit Cooler and More Innovative | 

Erica Kochi and Christopher Fabian work together on mapping the future of innovation at UNICEF House, New York
Erica Kochi and Christopher Fabian work together on mapping the future of innovation at UNICEF House, New York
Susan Markisz

Celebrities often fill the pages of the annual TIME 100 list. The 2013 list fulfills that trend with the inclusion of Beyonce, Sheryl Sandberg, Jay Z, and Justin Timberlake. A more cynical article would gripe about placing musician Beyonce and skier Lindsey Vonn in the same ‘icon’ category as a woman who endured years of house arrest in an oppressive country (Aung San Suu Kyi) and a pair of women who survived assassination attempts (Malala Yousafzai and Gabby Giffords).

Heck, we here in Humanosphere are ones to do that more often than not. But I can’t help but remain fixated on the inclusion of two ‘pioneers’ from UNICEF, Chris Fabian and Erica Kochi. The two are the co-leaders of the innovation unit over at UNICEF. That’s right, one of the oldest development institutions has a group devoted to innovative solutions. Here is just a things the team is doing as summarized by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey for TIME:

More than half of the 6 million births each year in Nigeria are not recorded. Without a birth certificate, a child is much less likely to get educated, be vaccinated or receive health services. Two young UNICEF staffers — Erica Kochi and Christopher Fabian — moving fast within their 66-year-old organization, have made registering a birth as easy as sending a text. They’ve employed similar methods to prevent early deaths as well, creating systems to track the distribution of some 63 million insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets to stop the spread of malaria. Erica and Chris are using technology and accessible, intuitive interfaces to quickly transform the face of humanitarian aid and international development. The world will benefit from their continued efforts.

The most notable achievement by the pair is the open source technology tool RapidSMS. The tool uses cell phone text messages for collecting data that supports logistics coordination, database building and improved coordination. Its simple set up allows development organizations of any size to support their work through mobile phones. It is one of the more important developments in the realm of mHealth and it is no mistake that Kochi played a game of musical chairs at the 2012 edition of the mHealth Summit by shuffling from one panel to the next. Continue reading

Cell phone diagnostics? Close, but not quite a cigar | 

Mobile Phone Microscope
Mobile Phone Microscope
Isaac Bogoch

A team of researchers in Tanzania are getting lots of attention for adapting a smart phone to do worm infection diagnosis.

Close, but not quite. The team took an iPhone 4S, slapped on a glass lens with double sided tape and used a flashlight to see if intestinal worms are in stool samples.

The results may be promising, but not really too stunning an achievement or at the point where people should start putting lenses on $250 iPhones and use them as microscopes. The researchers call it a proof of concept, something desperately needed in the evidence-challenged field of mHealth. Continue reading

Evidence needs to catch up with enthusiasm for mobile phones & health, aka mHealth | 

AED Satellife's Gather Data, an Open Sourced Voxiva of health application; mhealth
Credit: Wayan Vota

There may really be an app for everything.

Cell phones are being used to perform echo cardiograms by American primary care physicians. Pregnant women in Bangladesh are receiving text message reminders to improve maternal health. Here’s a story from SciDev today about using phones to diagnose malaria.

The rapidly expanding use of mobile phones in health applications, aka mHealth, is widely touted as a global revolution unfolding. It may yet be, but where’s the evidence in support of the claims?

It is expected that 80% of the people living on the African continent will have access to mobile phones by the end of this year. This technological leap means that information can be communicated to more people in places that were previously hard to reach, or completely isolated. The diffusion of this technology has not been lost on governments, NGOs and the private sector. All are seeking ways to improve health services using phones. Continue reading

More Gates Foundation science support for global health, mobile technologies | 

Flickr, by 96dpi

Mobile phone

The Gates Foundation today announced it had awarded $6.5 million in a new round of funding to 65 scientific teams in 16 countries to pursue innovative global health technologies, including an emphasis on mobile phone applications.

At the same time the announcement went out, Bill Gates was speaking in Washington, D.C., at the mHealth Summit, a meeting promoting the expansion of web-based mobile technologies into health care. The word “mHealth” represents a huge range of endeavors, many of them focused on developing country uses. Microsoft Research, which has a number of projects targeting mHealth, co-sponsored the conference with the NIH.

As it turned out, the live webcast of Gates’ talk at mHealth didn’t work … which makes me hope that they work out the daily techno glitches we all experience with our phones and computers before they start depending too much on these gizmos to save our lives and improve the health of the poor. Continue reading