Information and news about mobile technology

Technological consumer base in West AfricaThe whole of Africa is known for being an incredibly poor continent. While improvements have been made in certain aspects of life that have provided citizens with better and easier lives in some regions, Africa is still in need of advances that work towards lessening poverty throughout this vast nation. The growing technological consumer base in West Africa, particularly the digital economy and mobile outreach, is becoming a very big deal.

When it comes to technological advances in smaller countries or regions of countries, some nations are way ahead of others. This is largely due to the fact that certain countries have more money than others to invest in these advancements. Even though money may be limited, some areas have found ways to achieve technological improvements.

The technological consumer base in West Africa has experienced a major increase in users in only a decade. Subscribers for the mobile economy of West Africa have reached 47 percent, up from 27 percent ten years ago. These advancements have created new opportunities for government, various industries, start-up businesses, and more. A conference held in April 2018 addressing West Africa’s digital revolution in the last ten years revealed two major factors that contributed to this new digital age: people and technology. People are the ones who rely on, create, and consume technology in increasing numbers while technology and technological advancements continue to broaden their impact the more they are improved upon. The conference was devoted to these two factors in an attempt to bring continued support for integrating mobile and digital technology into society in these regions and bolstering the new growing base of users.

An example of the impact of the increasing technological consumer base in West Africa occurred in 2017. To begin, 85 percent of the world’s population lives in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Large companies such as Google realize that what works for citizens in western culture may not work in the most heavily populated regions of the world. When 1GB of data can cost a consumer almost 10 percent of monthly income, better user options must be considered to grow the consumer base. Recognizing this, Google broadened the YouTube Go app to Nigeria. This app is data-friendly and allows viewers to save and watch videos offline. Google also created an app called Datally for Android which helps users conserve data. As an internet conglomerate, Google realizes that areas like West Africa are the future of the world’s growth. It focuses on ways to enable these areas to grow in a technological age and improve life for its citizens.

Organizations, such as the World Bank Group, have been promoting a digital economy in all parts of Africa. A digital economy will connect Africa’s citizens to various industries, services, information, and each other. In addition, it will provide people with a digital ID to validate their identity and help them connect to necessary government services. Citizens will also gain easier access to formal financial services including mobile money, such as e-commerce and online markets. West Africa’s most recent technological developments and increasing consumer base provide proof that these advancements are possible, they work in these regions, and they make life better for its citizens. This can influence other regions of Africa to continue developing a digital economy.

West Africa’s growing technological consumer base is a possible stepping stone to a better future for Africa as a continent. This growth of the digital economy in Africa that will give citizens much-needed resources, provide more economic opportunities, and create a better way of life.

– Haley Saffren
Photo: Flickr

Apps That Help Fight HungerHunger is a crisis facing many countries and communities around the world, with about 821 million people experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity. According to the United Nations, the biggest risk to worldwide health is hunger and malnutrition. Several programs already exist to help fight this issue such as food banks, food stamps, shelters and agencies like World Bank and the International Fund for Agriculture Development. However, there is an up and coming way for anyone to be able to provide assistance—smartphone apps. These five apps that help fight hunger offer various ways to give help with little more than the tap of a finger.

Five Apps That Help Fight Hunger

  1. Share the Meal – The U.N. World Food Programme created Share the Meal. The WFP helps 80 million people with food assistance and is the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting against hunger. Download the app, donate $0.50 or more and feed a child for the day. The WFP then receives the funds, provides the meal and will even show in the app where the meal will go.
  2. Feedie – Feedie is an app that partners with the Lunchbox Fund to provide a meal to underserved children around the world. Over 12 million meals have been given through the app as well as through donations. Download the app, find a participating restaurant, take and share a picture of the meal and the restaurant will make a donation that equals the cost of one meal.
  3. OLIO – OLIO is a food-sharing app based in the UK that allows people and local businesses to post food items nearing their best-by or sell-by date for other people to pick up. To date, over 1 million people have joined the app and 1.8 million portions of food have been shared. To post items, download the app, add a picture and description of the item, list when and where it can be picked up and wait for someone to claim it. To request items, scroll through the local listings, request what is needed and arrange to pick up through a private message.
  4. Chowberry Chowberry is an online app, similar to OLIO, based in Nigeria that allows consumers and organizations to find food products listed by retailers that are nearing their sell-by date. Chowberry works with orphanages and faith-based organizations, as well as everyday customers. Sign up for the website and scroll through several participating stores and listed items to find needed items.
  5. WeFarm WeFarm is a farmer-to-farmer digital network that allows farmers to connect to other farmers in various parts of the world, without the use of the internet. More than 1 million farmers have been helped using WeFarm and over 40 thousand questions and answers are sent in each day. Farmers can text their local WeFarm number a question they have, and other connected farmers can respond with their answers and suggestions.

Hunger is an ongoing issue that millions of people face every day. These five apps that help fight hunger offer several different solutions to both those in need and those that are able to help. From donating a few cents, to listing discounted products, to connecting farmers around the world and more, helping those dealing with hunger can be a quick and easy process requiring nothing more than a cellphone.

– Jessica Winarski
Photo: Flickr

Mobile Software Platforms in Developing Countries  The creation of mobile phones is not only beneficial for everyday usage but also for the livelihood of communities in developing countries. As mobile phones continue to advance, the creation of software applications that are easily accessible can make a difference in the developing world. Whether it be a mobile banking platform, a market information system or an EMS service for desolate regions in developing countries, these types of mobile software are undoubtedly effective in helping those they serve.

3 Mobile Software Platforms in Developing Countries

  1. M-Pesa: In 2007, Kenya launched the mobile banking platform, M-Pesa, with the help of a one million pound grant from the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development. M-Pesa is a money transfer service dedicated to allowing its users to transfer money to relatives in other locations through text, pay for everyday necessities and take out and repay loans. This software plays a significant role in reducing poverty. Studies show that there was a “6 percent increase in per capita consumption, enough to push 64 (or roughly 4 percent) of the sampled households above poverty levels.” Often referred to mobile money, this software gives the opportunity to separate cash and manage a source of income, especially for women. Considering most of the households are male-headed, women who are secondary income earners are unable to save adequately since most of the cash is used by the house. But M-Pesa creates financial independence and allows women to start their own businesses, bringing more money into families.
  2. MISTOWA: Market Information Systems and Traders Organizations in West Africa, MISTOWA for short, is an application created to provide statistics on agriculture to connect small farmers in remote areas with potential buyers at a fair market price. Created by the United States Agency for International Development and launched in March 2005, MISTOWA uses a web platform called TradeNet where buyers and sellers can upload and send agriculture information through text and SMS subscriptions. MISTOWA is partnered with a company named Esko in Nairobi, Ghana where rural farmers are sent price information, weather alerts and crop advice. After launching this mobile software, there was a 9 percent increase in profit for the farmers who used the software.
  3. Beacon: In rural areas, such as the countryside of the Dominican Republic, many citizens are unable to dial 9-1-1 for a medical emergency due to emergency services being too far away. Trek Medics International, in partnership with Google and Cardinal Health, created a lifesaving software program called Beacon. Through this mobile software, residents in the Dominican Republic can contact the nearest firehouse station where an alert will be sent via Beacon to a volunteer dispatcher who is first-aid trained. This volunteer travels to these regions on inexpensive motorcycles and transports the injured person to the nearest hospital.

Thanks to the masterminds behind mobile software, communities in developing countries are beginning to make use of the technology that is available to them through their mobile phones. Although these mobile software platforms in developing countries don’t tackle every issue, it is just the beginning of how advanced technology can make an impact.

– Jessica Curney
Photo: Flickr

Digital Bangladesh on its WayBangladesh has embarked on a journey to digitize itself and transition to a middle-income country by 2021. This goal is known as Digital Bangladesh. Incorporating digital technology in almost every sector of the country is an ambitious target for Bangladesh, yet it has already made progress with more initiatives on the way.

Information and Communication Technology

By 2021, the government aims to integrate Information & Communication Technology (ICT) as a key tool in eradicating poverty and establishing good governance as well as improving the quality of education, healthcare and law enforcement. The government has already laid out some of the foundation work for realizing Digital Bangladesh, such as preparing the National ICT Policy 2009 and the Right to Information Act 2009.

Some of the strategies being used to implement Digital Bangladesh include increasing the coverage of broadband internet connection and cellphone communication throughout the country in order to exchange information and access different types of services, integrating ICT into the school curriculum and improving the capacity and management of healthcare services. Other important areas Digital Bangladesh will improve are increased efficiency in judicial processes, improved coverage of social safety-net programs, reduced environmental impact as well as increased access to banking and financial services.

The Benefits of Digitizing

With more than 120 million cellphone subscribers and 43 million internet subscribers, the population of Bangladesh has been able to enjoy the benefits of digitizing different services around the country. Some examples of these digital services include admission registration to academic institutions, the publication of exam results online, online submission of tax returns, online banking systems and bill payments and filing complaints to police stations. Even video conferencing and telemedicine services are now available in rural areas of the country.

The Access to Information (a2i) Program, supported by UNDP and USAID since 2007, has been the driving force for Digital Bangladesh with the aim of increasing transparency, improving governance and reducing inefficiency in providing public services around the country. On average, six million e-services are provided per month to rural and remote areas through the 407 City Corporation Digital Centers, 321 Municipality Digital Centers and 4,547 Union Digital Centers.

Digitizing is helping to streamline government affairs. More than 25,000 websites of different unions, sub-districts, districts, departments and ministries are connected through the National Web Portal. This portal contains information for more than 43,000 government offices. Furthermore, activities are much more environmentally friendly now that the Prime Minister’s Office as well as around 20 ministries, 4 departments, 64 Deputy Commissioner’s offices and 7 Divisional Commissioner’s offices are using e-filing system. This created an efficient paper-less environment in offices.

Digital Banking

In terms of digital payments, as of December 2015, 18 banks are now operating mobile financial services in Bangladesh. Transactions have risen significantly to 120 percent on average since 2011. This amounts to $1.3 billion on average per month. Although these transactions are a small portion of the entire economy, it is still a notable shift towards digital services, thus a step closer to Digital Bangladesh.

More than one billion transactions in 2015, worth around $20 billion, were done digitally. Furthermore, 70 percent of government payments were also digital. As of 2016, around 38 million people in Bangladesh had utilized mobile money services, reflecting the shift from a cash-dominant economy to a more digital payment economy. The availability of mobile money orders has also been a remarkable stride towards Digital Bangladesh, especially for the rural areas in the country.

Furthermore, around 300 of the Digital Centers have been involved with rural e-Commerce, allowing people to purchase items that are not easily available in remote areas. It has also allowed small-scale women entrepreneurs to participate with 5000 women entrepreneurs who are involved with the e-Commerce platform called “ejoyeeta.com,” which consists of goods produced by these women.

Improvements Still Needed

Bangladesh still has a long way to go in terms of fully digitizing itself. The National Identification System needs to be fully implemented and incorporated with important services in order to improve access to digital financial services. Since human capital is an essential element when it comes to adopting new technology, programs aimed at incorporating ICT-based education from primary to tertiary level schools should be prioritized. Finally, having political stability is a necessity in realizing Digital Bangladesh, given how political turmoil is often a setback when it comes to the development of different sectors in the country, including ICT.

The progress Bangladesh has made so far in realizing its 2021 goal cannot be overlooked despite its lacking in certain areas. However, with the increase in different digital services and activities around the country, Bangladesh is gradually lifting itself up and shifting towards a more ICT based economy, making Digital Bangladesh a potential reality. 

Farihah Tasneem

Photo: Flickr

10 Apps that Fight Poverty
With technology always growing and changing it is now easier than ever to fight poverty and support different organizations in fun and unique ways. There is no better way to fight poverty than with something most everyone has — a phone. Adults in the United States spent an average of three hours and 35 minutes per day on mobile devices in 2018. There are apps that are designed to help fight poverty or support local and overseas charities all with a few taps on the screen. With the abundance of these apps available, it was very easy to find 10 apps that fight poverty. Many of these apps even include a fun twist that gets people motivated to donate. All 10 apps listed below are available to download as of February 2019.

  1. Compassion is an app that allows the phone holder to sponsor a child in need of aid in Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Caribbean. If the phone holder is already a sponsor within an organization, they can also sign up with their sponsor number to gain access to more information about the child they are sponsoring.
  2. One Today allows phone holders to donate funds to various causes and organizations and is pretty straight forward about it. When the phone holder looks at a specific organization or cause, they are about to quickly learn about the issue and how the organization is actively fighting it. This app explains how much of the funds given to one organization will help that specific organization achieve its goals. The price may vary. Today gives the phone holder a chance to give $1, to match the profile’s request, match a friends donation, or give more than the suggested amount. Phone holders don’t have to worry about where their money is going because 100 percent of the money that is donated is given directly to the organization.
  3. ShareTheMeal is the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) app that allows users to feed a hungry child. It is easy to navigate and has plenty of feeding plans to choose from, with the most basic involving donation 50 cents to give a child one meal and the most complex being over a $1,000 to feed a child for a year. The app also gives the option to add a custom amount. It is easy to quickly see where the funds are going and how they are helping children from around the world grow and survive.
  4. Connect & Care is another app that lets users find real charities around the world and set up regular donations to them right from their phone. The app allows the phone holder to learn more about the causes they are supporting and see how the charity is making an impact on the donations given.
  5. Donate a Photo is a unique and simple app that utilizes something everyone does with their phones, which is taking pictures. For every photo sent to Johnson & Johnson’s website with this app, the company donates $1 to a good cause that the phone holder chooses.
  6. Campaigns made on Spotfund can be local or overseas but all are verified and easy to give to. It is a quick, easy and safe way for phone holders to donate to good causes and to even start a story of their own. Spotfund’s minimum donation size is 1$, so everyone can participate and all donations are anonymous.
  7. Maximuslife is an app that encourages the user to give by getting active. Run, walk, bike, skate, climb and more and each step that is taken benefits the cause of the users choosing. Phone holders are able to do these activities on their own or join a challenge group to participate with.
  8. GoodBooky is a fun way to get friends involved in the giving. With this fun app, you can make a friendly wager on major sporting events, TV show finales or random customized bets with friends. The loser donates to the winner’s selected charity. All the user has to do is make a bet, choose a friend and charity, and settle an amount. After the other player accepts the bet, the game begins on who will win for their charity.
  9. Flourish is a useful app for everyday spending. By using a rounding up system, the app can take the $3.50 a user spent on coffee and add 50 cents to give to a charity of the users choice. By rounding up cents the app gives phone holders the chance to donate without taking to much funding. The app also allows for recurring one time donations, and what is called “double tip rules.” A double tip is when the rounding up system is doubled for items set by the user. For example, if the user were to set a double tip rule to apply to every time they bought ice cream, then the app would recognize the purchases and give double to the charities.
  10. Сharidy is a great way to keep track of all donations and organizations, store receipt and set up recurring giving to favorite causes. It is great for users who enjoy donating and keeping records of how they have helped certain organizations before.

These 10 apps that fight poverty are just a few of many that aim to make the world a better place. They make it easy to donate and get involved with great causes that are in your backyard or halfway across the world. Since they are so simple to use, people do not have any excuses not to help the poor.

– Madeline Oden

Photo: Flickr

Credit Access in the Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a country ripe with investment opportunities mainly due to its abundant natural resources, population size and predominantly open trading system. At the same time, it is also a challenging country for business because of its weak financial system, widespread corruption and bribery.

Overall, credit access in the Democratic Republic of Congo is limited, therefore the country has a scarce and short-term credit volume history.

Financial System in the Democratic Republic of Congo

The Congolese financial system has less than 10 licensed banks, one single development bank, 120 microfinance institutions and has no equity or debt markets. The lack of a substantial financial sector prevents the Congolese from participating in the global market. The government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (GDRC) is working to improve and enhance regulatory measures over its economic environment.

The GDRC’s National Agency for Investment Promotion (ANAPI) is responsible for monitoring initial investments that have a value larger than $200,000. ANAPI is required to make the investment process streamlined and transparent for new foreign investors with the goal of improving the country’s image as an investment destination. The GDRC has enacted investment regulations to prohibit foreign investors from conducting business in small retail commerce. These regulations also prohibit a foreign investor from becoming a majority shareholder in the agricultural sector.

Partnership for Financial Inclusion

The Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo contains laws meant to combat internal corruption, bribery and the illegal activities of all Congolese citizens. Unfortunately, these laws are rarely enforced, and when they are observed, the application is politically motivated. The corruption negatively impacts the country’s exports and the economy as it discourages foreign investors. In 2013, the IMF withdrew a $532 million loan because the GDRC refused to disclose details surrounding the sale of 25 percent of a state-owned copper project. Without foreign direct investment (FDI), job growth remains stagnant and low wages remain, resulting in the inability to get credit. All of the issues contributing to the fragile state of credit access in the Democratic Republic of Congo can be rectified with innovation and reformation.

The GDRC’s push for advancement is not lost on some U.S. investors, evidenced by the Partnership for Financial Inclusion, a $37.4 million joint venture between the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Mastercard Foundation that focuses its interests on financial inclusion in sub-Saharan Africa. The initiative aims to expand microcredit and develop digital financial services that are present now in the DRC, as many of the country’s banks are using mobile services.

Credit Access in the Democratic Republic of Congo

According to the World Bank, current statistics show the strength of legal rights index for the DRC to be six on a scale from zero to 12. This score indicates how the GDRC’s collateral and bankruptcy laws protect borrowers and lenders. The country has no electronic infrastructure listing debtors’ names and wages and lacks any unified registry. In DRC, there are no established rules that work on behalf of its citizens to make it easy to establish credit access. The depth of credit information index shows the DRC ranks zero on a scale of zero to eight. This index measures rules that affect the quality of available credit information and its accessibility to credit bureaus.

The World Bank’s statistics show that within the DRC’s economy, an integrated legal framework for secured transactions exists. However, this framework is a one-stop shop where interagency communication and transactions occur in non-digital systems. This framework is comprised of governmental agencies that expedite registration of DRC companies. A digital infrastructure could allow for a much more fluid and rapid increase in the establishment of digital financial services.

Digital financial services include cryptocurrency and blockchain technology. Cryptocurrencies are digital or virtual money that use encryption to safeguard, regulate and verify the currency and transfer of funds. Cryptocurrencies are not subject to commercial or governmental control and remove corruption from the equation by preventing illegal facilitation payments. Virtual currencies are the foundation for digital economies and financial inclusion. They can reform the Congolese banking system and fund areas such as health care and education.

A digital economy can pave the way for improved personal savings and increased credit access in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to a study about the impact of digital financial inclusion on inclusive economic growth and development, individuals in rural areas who regularly save their money have more of an ability to feed their families. Results also show they feel socially included with the use of digital services or agent banking, which is not the case with traditional banks.

A nominal percentage of the DRC population has accounts with traditional banks, but thanks to the Partnership for Financial Inclusion, that reality is changing. The country’s goal of expanding microfinance and developing digital services throughout the DRC is slowly actualizing, as is evident by the GDRC’s economic governance of its business climate. It also is evident by their scores for the strength of legal rights index and depth of credit information index.

Because of these scores, the range of credit access in the Democratic Republic of Congo widens, but the country’s laws and corruption still are hurdles that must be overcome in order for the credit access and credit volume to reach ideal numbers.

– Julianne Russo
Photo: Pixabay

Mobile Banking in ThailandAs internet access becomes more relevant, new markets and business sectors such as information technology, finance, banking, and telecommunications are developing. This can expand opportunities for rural areas that were once outside the scope of urban centers to take advantage of mobile banking and empower formerly marginalized communities. With the help of the internet, everyone can join the development world with minimum requirements. For this reason, mobile banking in Thailand is currently more prevalent than ever.

Often in developing countries, banks and telecommunication infrastructure are scarce, while mobile phones are found in spades. This interesting dichotomy has led to the proliferation of mobile money and banking, which allows money to be transferred, deposited, and converted back into cash using only a mobile phone to do it.

Mobile Banking in Thailand on the Rise

According to the World Bank, as of 2016, Thailand’s rural population was 48.46%. With recent developments in mobile banking in Thailand, roughly 50% of the population will have increased opportunities to pay bills, conduct money transfers, and make everyday purchases electronically.

The role credits and loans have in the growth of developing countries’ economies cannot be overstated. Increased loan access is essential for allowing farmers, businesses, and consumers as well to utilize investment capital and help expand economic activity. As mobile banking in Thailand proliferates throughout the financial sector, it offers increased access to loans.

This past year (2017), Thailand has seen incredible growth in the mobile banking sector. The Bank of Thailand recently published data that illustrates a surge in the use of mobile internet banking in Thailand. Consumers’ increasing preference for digital transactions highlights the success of banks’ pivot toward more digital strategies.

The Benefits of Mobile Banking in Thailand

As Thailand continues to cement the transition to mobile banking, rises in employment, wages, GDP and productivity are expected. Consumers can expect to receive THB 3.3 billion in annual benefits, while businesses will see up to THB 72.9 in annual net benefits. Employment will rise by 1.6% and wages by 0.2%. THB is an abbreviation for Thailand Baht. In comparison, 1 USD equals 32.82 THB.

As the government and private sector continue to facilitate the growth of mobile banking in Thailand, electronic payments between consumers and merchants will become increasingly prevalent. The transition towards a cashless society and the advantages that come with it are many, one of them being the cost of transactions.

A study conducted by VISA predicts that the total benefits of Bangkok shifting to a cashless society will be approximately THBg 125 billion per year.

An Upward Trajectory

The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Framework 2020 involves several strategies and goals that include universal broadband and a competitive ICT industry. With regard to the national broadband policy, the ICT Framework hopes to have 90% of the population connected by 2020.

Hopefully, as Thailand completes the transition to a more connected society, other southeast Asian countries will take notice and invest in better technological and banking infrastructure. In turn, these subsequent developments could make the region a burgeoning financial hub.

Since mobile banking is dependent on a strong broadband network, the future of mobile banking in Thailand looks bright, as the government prioritizes increased broadband coverage across the country.

– McAfee Michael Sheehan
Photo: Google

mobile apps in developing countriesIn the last 10 years alone, the number of mobile phone users has grown to four billion, with 37 percent of that growth occurring in developing economies. With internet availability expected to reach even the least developed nations in the next couple of years, a rapidly growing market for mobile apps in developing countries will likely expand even more.

Why is This the Trend?

In areas of Asia and Africa, one can buy a smartphone for the equivalent of $30. Simply put, mobile technology is the most convenient and cheapest technology option available for developing countries.

This convenience is one reason why the biggest market growth is seen in three main regions:

  1. Latin America, where smartphone adoption has seen double-digit growth and mobile banking gives financial access to those who might not ordinarily have it.
  2. South Asia, where in places like Vietnam, the number of Internet users has grown from four million to 45 million in just the last 10 years.
  3. The Middle East and North Africa, where, in Egypt alone, downloads of tool and messaging apps rose 60 percent in a year.

What Are the Uses for Mobile Apps in Developing Countries?

Whether it is to increase food production, access health information, launch a startup or improve education, a new reliance on mobile apps in developing countries transforms the way nations grow. While access to education is not a given in developing countries, the concept and means of education are shifting.

Four of the five top countries for educational app downloads are India, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. A large reason for this is that 50 percent of South Asians and 33 percent of Africans who finish school still cannot read, and 60 percent of six- to 14-year-olds in India cannot read at a second-grade level.

Mobile Apps are Facilitating Needed Change

For farmers who seek to increase food production, change is especially welcome. For practical purposes, apps like iCow allow livestock farmers in Kenya to track gestational periods for their animals, find veterinarians and monitor best practices. An app called Esoko disseminates information to farmers about market prices, weather forecasts and advisory services. Yet another popular app, WeFarm, offers a peer-to-peer platform for farmers to share information among themselves, with or without Internet access.

Beyond the fields and the classroom, popular mobile apps in developing countries range from banking apps like M-PESA, which allows for the transfer of funds over text message, to Voto Mobile, voice-based services in local languages. These programs have been rolled out in countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and India.

In India, as with much of the developing world, access to good healthcare is also a concern. With over 60 million people in the country with type two diabetes and 36 million living with Hepatitis B, its people look to take advantage of the over 100,000 healthcare apps that already exist.

Never has technology been so accessible, yet never has the need for technology been so dire. With the myriad issues that arise because of extreme poverty, mobile technology gives rise to a new hope for developing nations.

– Daniel Staesser

Photo: Flickr

hiv-focused telehealthSome of the largest barriers to HIV treatment and prevention in rural areas are access to care and affordability. Luckily, telehealth technology can help provide people in more isolated areas with access to information about HIV prevention and treatment. For individuals without a car whose nearest health center is 15 or more miles away, HIV-focused telehealth or telemedicine is a potential solution.

Through telehealth, individuals can hold appointments with health practitioners over the phone, through messaging services or via video chat. Telehealth is one of the more accessible technological services, as expensive devices like smartphones and personal laptops are not necessarily required. Additionally, the appointments themselves reduce in cost, as they are cheaper than in-person appointments and do not require any travel on the part of the patient or health practitioner.

Here are a few ways that HIV-focused telehealth programs can assist people with HIV, from diagnosis to treatment.

Testing

Telehealth can encourage HIV self-testing in remote, resource-limited areas. With the establishment of many HIV self-testing initiatives in countries like Zambia and South Africa, telehealth coupled with home-testing kits allow individuals to have the guidance of a health professional in the privacy of their homes. With an at-home HIV test, the patient can take the test at their convenience while talking, video chatting or texting with a health practitioner. This way, the patient would not have to rely on inaccessible health clinics to get tested, and would have the guidance of a professional assisting them with administering the test themselves.

At-home testing with telehealth also ensures that the health practitioner can link the patient to a confirmatory test and other resources following the test results. If a person is alone after taking a self-test, it is possible that they will not follow up with the necessary appointments. 

Diagnosis

In most countries, HIV is highly stigmatized and many people face discrimination, isolation and a sense of hopelessness following a diagnosis. People who experience depression after finding out their status are less likely to adhere to medication or care about their overall physical health.

In resource-constrained areas, many of which struggle with high instances of HIV, telepsychiatry may be the only option for therapy. Research from the World Health Organization (WHO) showed that low-income countries have a median of 0.05 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people, versus high-income countries with 10.50 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people.

With telepsychiatry, people in remote areas can receive low-cost therapy at home from a therapist that is located anywhere in the world. While studies have shown telepsychiatry to be effective and affordable in resource-constrained areas, it is the least widely implemented telehealth practice, with most countries prioritizing teleradiology and telepathology.

Treatment

When people with HIV do not have the means to travel to a health center for treatment and proper check-ups, telehealth technology combined with traveling medical services can ensure better medication adherence and better outcomes for people living with HIV. Telehealth can assist HIV positive people by scheduling check-ins and antiretroviral medication deliveries over the phone.

However, some organizations are developing new ways to assist patients through mobile phone apps. The Vodafone Foundation recently introduced a mobile telephone app designed to assist people with HIV that live in resource-constrained areas. The HIV-focused telehealth app was first launched in Lesotho, Africa, and it allows health practitioners to track their patient’s treatment, health information and payment methods. The app also connects patients with funding to pay for appointments and transportation to the closest health center.

While technology has given the global fight against HIV/AIDS a much-needed upgrade, lack of funding, infrastructure and legislation were still named as the top three barriers to implementing national telehealth programs for WHO member states. Regardless, more than 57 percent of WHO member states acknowledge telehealth in national policy and many are looking to implement new telehealth programs through legislation in the future. If the legislation leads to the initiation of more HIV-focused telehealth programs, people with HIV in remote areas will have a better chance at leading healthy lives.

– Danielle Poindexter

Photo: Flickr

Tech Solutions That Improve Humanitarian Service DeliveryWith natural disasters like the recent earthquakes in Mexico and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria wreaking untold havoc, the question of how to improve humanitarian service delivery is all the more pertinent. Technology is quickly changing the way we respond to crises and will continue to transform our responses in the future.

According to the GSM Association, increased mobile connectivity is a lifeline that has made service delivery more efficient. Network operators can get in touch with anyone connected to a mobile device to warn them of incoming disasters and provide them with strategies to prepare for the worst. The rise of social media has given political leaders and news organizations similar powers to connect with their citizens and audiences.

In addition, mobile devices make humanitarian cash transfers easier—it is far more convenient and quicker to send digital money than cash—and improve access to energy. Especially in the developing world, many people live off the traditional “grid” but are covered by pay-as-you-go energy providers, who partner with mobile services, to ensure easy and orderly digital payments.

According to the World Economic Forum, robots are making a difference in how humanitarian aid is deployed, and they will likely do so to an even greater extent in the future. Certain areas become too dangerous during disasters for human responders to be able to assess needs or deliver aid, and robots (including drones) have the potential to mitigate that. Indeed, drones are currently being used, albeit in a limited manner.

With the number of people affected by humanitarian crises nearly doubling over the course of the past decade, technological solutions like these will be vital to minimizing the effects of the growing displacement crisis and the security risks and poverty it causes.

Gisli Rafn Olafsson believes one of the most important effects of technology on humanitarian service delivery is its potential to encourage a “bottom-up” approach that will soon replace the current, unwieldy “top-down” paradigm. With technology, the beneficiaries of humanitarian response can organize their own responses to wars and natural disasters rather than wait for help to arrive. A grassroots network is invariably the strongest tool and the best solution to improve humanitarian service delivery.

Chuck Hasenauer
Photo: Flickr