Using mobile phones to make a healthy connection

As developing countries face ever-increasing health challenges and inadequate budgetary allocations, the Vodafone Group Foundation is leading other technology heavyweights in a one-week mHealth and mobile telemedicine conference with the United Nations Foundation.

The conference in Bellagio, Italy, is designed to harness the potential of mHealth (mobile health) to unlock access to health data and improve health care in the developing world.

Dubbed "Making the eHealth Connection: Global Partners, Local Solutions," the meeting is cofacilitated by the U.N. Foundation-Vodafone Group Foundation Partnership and the Telemedicine Society of India.

Participants include representatives of Cisco, Google, Microsoft, Nokia and Qualcomm, as well as the Earth Institute, Gates Foundation, MIT and the U.N. World Health Organization.

"There is a larger need for technological innovation to help strengthen international public health efforts," said Claire Thwaites, technology partnership head of the U.N. Foundation and the Vodafone Group Foundation.

As the mobile phone has proven its ability to transform lives in the developing world, the conference will examine the landscape of mHealth and mobile telemedicine, assess priority issues and identify potential next steps for a multi-sector partnership dedicated to advancing mHealth programs.

"Mobile phone use is exploding across the developing world, offering the opportunity to leapfrog other applications and services on both the health and technology fronts," said Mitul Shah, senior director of technology at the U.N. Foundation.

The conference is gathering 25 private-sector and public-health leaders to explore the challenges, opportunities and ways to move forward in building mHealth systems that can improve the access to and efficiency and quality of health services in the developing world, said the U.N. foundation in a press statement.

These representatives will discuss development of rapid-response telecom teams to aid disaster relief; development of systems that improve access to health data, thereby helping to combat disease; and promotion of research and innovative initiatives using technology as a tool for international development.

"Developments in the field of mHealth, in particular, are creating a remarkable opportunity to bring about a sea change in healthcare delivery, even in the most resource-poor environments," Thwaites noted.

Launched in October 2005, the U.N. Foundation-Vodafone Group Foundation Partnership advocates for the use of strategic technology programs to strengthen the U.N.'s humanitarian efforts worldwide.

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