mobile phone developmentWith simple communication, monitoring and data collection, the full capabilities of mobile phone technology in developing countries are being put to work. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of mobile phone development in developing countries.

Monitoring

Monitoring and regular, real-time updates on the conditions of everything from crops to the spread of disease are a huge help for organizations dedicated to mobile development. Farmers can use a wireless sensing network (WSN) to monitor crop and soil conditions as well as irrigation systems for better water management. Simple, inexpensive and low-powered sensing nodes communicate information directly to farmers’ mobile devices. Farmers can also use their mobile devices to check and monitor rising and falling market prices.

In 2013, UNICEF partnered with Ugandan farmers to track and monitor the spread of banana bacterial wilt, a disease that threatens bananas, one of Uganda’s major food staples. Through mobile phone polling, UNICEF was able to map the areas of farmland where bananas were infected and bring that vital information directly to farmers.

Health workers are also utilizing mobile monitoring particularly to track and prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Innovative Support to Emergencies Diseases and Disasters (InSTEDD) is a data collection software used to record incidents of communicable disease. Health departments in Thailand and Cambodia have piloted an early warning disease surveillance initiative. Using SMS, InSTEDD has been used to track diseases at the local and national level. Health officials hope that the use of such mobile development will help them track, prevent and prepare for potential disease outbreaks.

Communication and Information Delivery

SMS provides a cheap and fast means of communication. Although a very basic messaging service, it is compatible with even the cheapest mobile phones. Even this simple text service is being put to work to improve lives around the world. In 2014, IntraHealth International and UNICEF created mHero, a two-way mobile phone-based communication system. Using SMS, ministries of health exchange real-time information and data with health workers in the field. This timely flow of communication helps health workers perform better-informed care and provides them with reliable support.

Rapid communication is also being used to alert residents in Bangalore, India to water availability. In Bangalore, people may have to wait up to 10 days for water to be available. NextDrop is a phone-based program that uses text messaging to notify residents when their water will next be available. With 75,000 registered users, NextDrop communicates vital, timely information about the water availability, so that residents need not waste their days waiting.

Data Collection

Polling, surveys and civilian reports have long been used to supply organizations with information about the populations they are serving to provide better and more efficient aid. Mobile phones reduce the need for face-to-face interviews to collect data as well as cut costs of landline calls, allowing health workers to reach more people in less time. With larger pools of responders, health surveys inform officials of a more complete summary of the population. The Performance Monitoring and Accountability 2020 (PMA2020) is a global survey project with the goal of providing women and girls with access to modern contraceptive methods by 2020. Through household surveys, PMA2020 collects fertility data to estimate the total fertility rate of a given country.

UNICEF created their own reporting system using mobile devices called U-Report. This messaging and reporting tool empowers users to speak out about issues that matter most to them. Active in 53 countries and with more than 6 million users, U-Report has been used to engage in issues from employment discrimination to child marriage. Data is then shared with policymakers so that they can make informed decisions. U-Report can be used with multiple messaging services including SMS so that even users with basic mobile phones can participate. The service is free and anonymous to encourage as many users as possible to report. UNICEF utilized U-Report’s messaging system to send alerts to users living in the path of Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria and using SMS shared vital information with families during the major floods in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

With the help of mobile devices, almost every corner of the world is reachable, from the poor living in the largest cities to the most rural communities. Aid organizations are making vital use out of the communication and data collection capabilities to help those who are most in need. Mobile development is helping to ensure that everyone has the tools and information to make informed decisions, ask for assistance, and pull themselves out of poverty.

– Maya Watanabe
Photo: Flickr