If you are a regular urbanite like me, to you the mobile phone means just what Priyanka Chopra seems to convey with her idiosyncratic little nod in the Nokia commercial – ‘it’s not just a phone, it’s me’. The ubiquitous device has now been a part of your lifestyle for years. You need it to stay in touch with your friends (a lot more than you ever did before), share your favourite songs, share photos of everything under the sun; from your dog to your crush. You can’t go a day without the mobile. It’s almost like a lifeline. Ever wondered what else your mobile can do to change the world around you? Here are some stories where it is literally the real lifeline.
Mobile networks today cover 90% of the globe population and worldwide mobile penetration is well over 50% with 3.5 billion subscribers. This means more people in the world have one than don’t. With internet penetration still very limited, the mobile phone holds the power of creating change more than any other ICT device as of today. Many individuals and organizations around the world are leveraging this to help people in need.
Around the globe
Mobile technology is used primarily in the fields of heath, environment, disaster relief, advocacy and increasing citizen participation around the world. Many organizations have cropped up in the last 2 years that are dedicated to finding innovative ways of leveraging mobile technology in the social development space (MobileActive.org, FrontlineSMS, Ushahidi) Here are some interesting instances where the mobile is creating a larger change.
Healthcare to HIV/AIDS patients in South Africa
About 5.6 million people in South Africa live with HIV/AIDS. Over 30% of this population receives the antiretroviral treatment (ART) from the government. Often people have to travel from rural areas to access the public health centre to take the medication. The issue with ART is that it needs to be monitored closely and compliance to medication is crucial. If compliance is not kept above 90%, the consequences can be dire.
Cell-Life, a NGO in Cape Town started a project called Aftercare to address this problem. What they leveraged was the fact that 41% people in South Africa have a cell phone. They install a simple application on the cell phone through which a worker can remotely feed in data about the patient’s current medication and health status through a text message. The data is received at a Central database through a web. The health care giver can respond with the appropriate treatment. This is not just increasing the compliance levels, but making treatment convenient and accessible to patients in distant areas. Additionally it helps the health department in accurate data collection to monitor and measure patterns in disease and health.
Making sex information accessible on time to youth in California
Rate of STDs among Afro-American youth was on a constant rise when the San Francisco health department approached ISIS, a non-profit to develop a solution to make sex education accessible to the youth. In 2005, rates of gonorrhoea among Afro-American youth had gone over 100%.
ISIS again utilized the platform of the mobile phone to reach the youth, 85% of who owned a mobile. SexInfo, a texting service was launched that enabled youth to text in a short code with the query they had related to contraception, pregnancy and STDs. The idea was text based help made information accessible to anonymous users and offered a personal response. This encouraged youth to seek answers promptly in private as opposed to approaching a person/organization in their area. During the first 25 weeks of the launch in April 2006, 4500 individuals accessed the service. The top 3 messages accessed were: “What 2 do if ur condom broke, 2 find out about STDs and if u think ur pregnant”.
Text messaging as a violence prevention tool in Kenya
After the presidential elections in 2007, violence broke out as there were accusations of the election being rigged. PeaceNet, a Kenyan organization dedicated to human rights and peace set up a “nerve centre” where text messages could be sent by anyone who had information on impending violent attacks in any area. Since there was ban on live broadcasting of incidences of violence, the nerve centre became critical in gathering this information and reacting to it on time.
The nerve centre informed local “Peace Committees” that consisted of authorities and elders from the local area who pacified the attackers before the situation got out of control. In one such incidence, following a murder of a Kenyan MP, a youth group decided to attack a particular ethnic community. The nerve centre was able to alert the local Peace committee on time and the attack was averted.
If you liked this post, also try...