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Telehealth in IndiaIn 2017, around 60% of the population in India faced poverty, with around 1.3 million people living on less than $3.10 a day. India is one of the most populous countries, right behind China. As the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the nation, India was hard hit by the pandemic. The International Labor Organization (ILO) has estimated that with the economic halt in India, around 400 million people are at risk of falling into poverty. As people struggle with access to food and healthcare services, digital and technological resources are being  implemented to reach those most at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated the use of telehealth in India.

Telehealth in India

Telehealth in India has had a substantial impact on communities. Following the COVID-19 outbreak, the Indian government initiated telemedicine to help healthcare professionals reach everyone in need, even those living along the lines of poverty and those in rural locations. Telehealth in India gives the poor a chance to receive adequate healthcare without an in-person visit, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. India has made great strides in improving technological resources in the country. With these resources being improved, telemedicine can bring specialized care to even the most remote places in India.

There have been recent technological advances within India, such as the proliferation of fiber optic cables and the licensing of private internet service providers. These new technological advances have encouraged the Indian Space Research Organization to set up an exclusive satellite called HealthSAT that can bring telemedicine to the poor on a larger scale.

Telemedicine Systems

A telemedicine system in a small health center consists of a computer with custom medical software connected to essential medical diagnostic tools. Through the computer, digitized versions of patients’ medical images and diagnostic details are dispatched to specialist doctors through the satellite-based communication link. The information is received and examined to diagnose and suggest appropriate treatment through video-conferencing. With all of these services being offered, reaching the poor in the most remote places has become more of a possibility.

The Impact of Telehealth

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about negative effects for India, it has also compelled India to utilize more digital and technological resources to expand its reach. Telehealth in India has brought some relief to overburdened healthcare systems, relieving the pressures of increased caseloads due to the pandemic. Medical centers now have the ability and capacity to reach long-distance patients. The Indian government issued the Telemedicine Practice Guidelines in March 2020, allowing for registered medical practitioners to provide healthcare services using telecommunication and digital technologies.

The Future of Telehealth in India

Telehealth in India is bringing about new growth within the medical arena. The prolonged pandemic and the absence of a vaccine means telemedicine and telehealth services are integral and will be useful for the foreseeable future. Not only will the middle-class and the wealthy have access to healthcare but healthcare services will also be able to reach the poor in the most remote places.

– Kendra Anderson
Photo: Flickr

Microsoft's Global Skills InitiativeIn the wake of COVID-19, economies across the world have been hit hard. Countries alike have seen decreases across all economic sectors as quarantine and stay-at-home orders were mandated in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. People transitioned to working remotely, while millions of others lost their jobs entirely due to market crashes. In an effort to cushion the economic travesty that the pandemic has bought, Microsoft is launching a global initiative, partnering with LinkedIn and Github, to teach 25 million people across the world new digital skills. Microsoft’s global skills initiative aims to remedy the global economic impact that has come with COVID-19.

Digital Skills

Microsoft believes these newfound digital skills will give people the ability to take on jobs where digital skills are necessary in order to be successful. The initiative targets those who have lost jobs due to the pandemic, as well as minorities, women and others affected by poverty.

Recent statistics predict that over 250 million people globally may be unemployed by the end of 2020 due to COVID-19. Microsoft found that in the U.S. alone, in May 2020, women had an unemployment rate of 14.4% compared to men who were at 12%. Additionally, Latinx populations had unemployment rates of 16.7%, which is much higher than other groups. These statistics indicate why the initiative particularly targets populations such as women and minorities.

By learning digital skills, those who are at an economic disadvantage will be able to take on jobs in the digital age and improve their economic status. Those who attain these newfound skills might even be able to teach others and distribute their knowledge to uplift an entire community.

Three-step Process

The three partnered companies have come up with a three-step process that they hope will encourage economic growth in communities across the globe. The first part relates to the Linkedin Economic Graph. The Economic Graph is a digital representation of the global economy based on more than 690 million professionals, 50 million companies, 11 million job listings, 36,000 defined skills and 90,000 schools. In short, it is data that shows available jobs and their required skills as well as global hiring rates. These insights will help create economic opportunities for the global workforce.

The second part consists of free tools, programs and content that people will be provided with, in order to learn the skills necessary for job applications. This initiative will give people free access to content from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn and the GitHub Learning Lab.

Thirdly, low-cost certifications and other cost-free job-seeking tools will be available to help people pursue new jobs with their newly developed skills.

Along with this digital skills initiative, Microsoft will be backing $20 million worth of cash grants that will be distributed across the globe to different nonprofit organizations. These grants will help nonprofits to combat the effects of the pandemic and allow the nonprofits to further extend reach in order to help more people.

Microsoft believes that global shutdowns and social distancing have accelerated the path to digitalization in all fields and economies. The company knows that digital tools are now necessary regardless of the field of work and will continue to be relevant far after the pandemic has passed. Microsoft’s global skills initiative may help the world’s economic recovery and may possibly uplift the entire globe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

George Hashemi
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in AustriaAustria is a nation with nearly 8.7 million citizens that lies in the center of Europe. In 2015, Austria was deemed one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Because of this large statistic, only four percent of the population fall beneath the poverty line. Consequently, the poverty rate in Austria very small.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the poverty rate is the ratio of the number of people whose earnings fall below the poverty line. The poverty line is half the median household revenue of the total population. The World Factbook shows poverty is on the minor end of the spectrum in Austria but, despite low percentages, continues to exist.

Children 17 years old and younger are most affected. A 2016 OECD report shows that 9.1 percent of Austrian children live in a household with a disposable income of less than half of the Austrian median income. This number was seven percent in 2007. It is also interesting to note that among children living in Austria, 17.5 percent say that they have been bullied in the last two months. This is the second highest share in the OECD area.

In an evaluation of Austria’s well-being for 2016, the country performed close to the OECD average. Austrian households have higher net adjusted disposable income and experience lower work insecurity.

However, The Economic Survey of Austria of 2017 shows Austria is struggling to adjust towards digitalization. Digital transformation is altering the relationship between the wealthy and the poor. Well-educated people are adjusting quickly to global trends in technology, while older generations, the less educated and immigrants are falling behind. This creates unequal opportunity within the country and raises questions about those on the lower end entering the future workforce.

While Austria continues to struggle with growing child poverty rates and the digital era, 94.4 percent of Austrians are satisfied with the quality of water and air in the region. In regard to support, 92.5 percent of Austrians report having friends or relatives that they can rely on in times of trouble.

Based on economic status and results of well-being, the poverty rate in Austria can be drastically reduced. A possible solution to Austria’s largest problems could be an increase in the state budget for welfare assistance. The State could also create support structures for children being bullied or coming into school systems from low-income families. Equal opportunity and digital training must also be available for anyone entering the workforce so that older generations, the less educated and immigrants don’t get left behind.

Emilee Wessel

Photo: Flickr

Knight FoundationOn Jan. 26, the Knight Foundation announced the winners of its annual contest, the Knight News Challenge on Data. The challenge, which was inaugurated in 2007 amid the disruption that the digital age brought to journalism and news generally, grants select winners a share of $3 million.

Knight News Challenge winners can receive substantial funding to carry out their projects, said Anusha Alikhan, Knight Foundation Communications Director in an email.

“For example, eight of the Knight News Challenge on Data winners received investments of $237,589 to $470,000,” she said. “Nine early-stage ideas received $35,000 each through the Knight Prototype Fund, which helps innovators take media and information projects from idea to demo.”

This year’s challenge was the most competitive to date, capping at 1,060 submissions.

“The project unlocks information about how data can be used for community problem solving,” said Nina Zenni, the foundation’s Media Innovative Associate. “It makes data easier to interact with.”

Among the 17 winners this January was mRelief’s Documents Empowerment Project, a project that helps low-income users prove eligibility for public benefits programs. The project was established in September 2014 by a Chicago-based, all-female software development team. It received $250,000 as a winner of the Knight News Challenge on Data.

mRelief began as a medium through which those eligible for public assistance – including food stamps, free public transit and family health care – could bypass long lines and receive fast information about whether they qualify for state and nation-wide welfare programs.

Through a series of questions, the web application determines a user’s eligibility, local resources and the next steps to take in procuring the provided public benefits. Since its founding, mRelief says that its tool has reduced eligibility determination time by 75 percent.

The project has also evolved to include a wide variety of programs, partnering with the Chicago Public Library and Catholic Charities and expanding to a larger user base.

Through a partnership with Purple Binder, an application that refers to low-income communities to local services like food pantries or homeless shelters, mRelief was able to extend its reach beyond those who qualify for welfare benefits. mRelief is now accessible in a number of Chicago-based community centers, having created an eligibility tool capable of multi-program screening.

The mRelief project previously received funding from Knight Foundation as part of its Knight Prototype Fund in May 2015.  During its prototype stage, the mRelief board participated in a Knight Foundation-sponsored human-centered design workshop, becoming familiar with a wider user base to understand its needs.

They found, for example, that 54 percent of Illinois residents are not smartphone users, and would therefore not benefit from a smartphone application. Hence the creation of the SMS-functionality, allowing non-smartphone users to type “hello” to a number and fill out a text-delivered questionnaire.

This modernization of public assistance allows underprivileged populations streamlined access to welfare benefits within the area — in this case, the greater Chicago area. How such data usage could expand to an international level, however, remains on the horizon.

The Knight News Challenge on Data supports ideas that make data work for individuals and communities. A growing number of applicants begets a growing number of entrepreneurial projects seeking to merge data usage for increased impact.

As Jonathan Sotsky, Knight Foundation Director of Strategy and Assessment, writes: “Data provides an opportunity for fundraisers to allocate resources to the most effective nonprofits and increase the impact of programs they support.”

If this were to happen on an international level, it might change the landscape of global philanthropy for the better.

Nora Harless

Sources: The Knight News Challenge on Data, The Knight Foundation, mRelief
Photo: StockMedia