An Excellent Day of Discussion on mHealth

Yesterday, NDN, CTIA, the UN Foundation, and the Vodaphone Foundation partnered to release a study on mHealth for Development. Following a morning program focusing on the domestic benefits of mHealth, and specifically its ability to impact chronic disease, the evening program focused on mHealth in the developing world.

The evening session featured speakers very close to NDN. Simon opened the presentation, framing the conversation broadly around the power of mobile and reading from the 2007 paper he coauthored with Alec Ross, now the Senior Advisor on Innovation to Secretary of State Clinton:

A single global communications network, composed of Internet, mobile, SMS, cable and satellite technology, is rapidly tying the world’s people together as never before. The core premise of this paper is that the emergence of this network is one of the seminal events of the early 21st century. Increasingly, the world’s commerce, finance, communications, media and information are flowing through this network. Half of the world’s 6 billion people are now connected to this network, many through powerful and inexpensive mobile phones. Each year more of the world’s people become connected to the network, its bandwidth increases, and its use becomes more integrated into all that we do.

Connectivity to this network, and the ability to master it once on, has become an essential part of life in the 21st century, and a key to opportunity, success and fulfillment for the people of the world.

We believe it should be a core priority of the United States to ensure that all the world’s people have access to this global network and have the tools to use it for their own life success. There is no way any longer to imagine free societies without the freedom of commerce, expression, and community, which this global network can bring. Bringing this network to all, keeping it free and open and helping people master its use must be one of the highest priorities of those in power in the coming years.

The evening continued as Ross spoke, largely about his work at the State Department, noting that “networks are as, if not more, important than states and governments.” Following Ross, Tom Kalil, the Deputy Policy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy spoke, reviewing the conclusions he drew in the paper he wrote last year for NDN affiliate, the New Policy Insitute, on Harnessing the Mobile Revolution. In October of 2008, Kalil wrote:

that the explosive growth of mobile communications can be a powerful tool for addressing some of the most critical challenges of the 21st century, such as promoting vibrant democracies, fostering inclusive economic growth, and reducing the huge inequities in life expectancy between rich and poor nations.

The benefits of mobile communications are particularly profound for developing countries, many of which are “leapfrogging” the traditional fixed telecommunications infrastructure. As a result, billions of people in developing countries are gaining access to modern communications of any sort for the first time. There is no doubt that mobile communications are having a significant impact on the way Americans live, work and communicate with each other. But the impact is no doubt more keenly felt by the African mother who can call ahead to determine whether a doctor is available to treat her sick child before traveling for hours.

Following Kalil, former Senator Tim Wirth of the UN Foundation introduced the study on mHealth and Development, which is available here.