Leveraging ICT in Global Health and Development

By Maggie Nelsen

In recent years information communication technology (ICT) has come to the forefront of the development conversation. Generally, ICT is seen as an efficient, low-cost alternative for disseminating and receiving information and making transactions, but it is also revolutionizing how governments procure public services and institutionalize transparency and accountability. E-governance is already replacing traditional public institutions, such as banks and tax administration systems, which typically provide fundamental public goods and services. ICT has gradually been integrated into almost every major industry—finance, agribusiness, health, and education—and will inevitably play a major role in the post-2015 sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Most recently, E-health services and applications have successfully coordinated health emergency response structures in Ebola-affected countries. From the onset of the outbreak, mobile delivery of vital health information and local updates became a significant resource for citizens and health workers in affected areas. Apps and SMS messages allowed citizens to receive information about symptoms, local resources, and clinic locations. Health administrators and aid organizations utilized e-health technologies to map the spread of Ebola cases in real time, and maintain a database to better understand the transmission of the disease. In several of these cases, e-health services were critical in closing gaps in human capacity and other resource deficiencies, especially in rural areas where the nearest full-service clinic or lab is one hundred miles away. According to the International Telecommunications Union, the UN Specialized Agency for ICTs, there will be almost 7 billion mobile subscriptions by the end of this year. With mobile phone subscriptions likely to exceed the global population in the near-future, m-health could be a major tool in building capacity.

A GSM antenna supporting mobile technology in Gambia.

A GSM antenna supporting mobile technology in Gambia.  Photo obtained from Wikimedia user Ikiwaner under a creative commons license.

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Sustaining U.S. Commitment to Food Security and Agricultural Development

By Anna Applefield

In 2010, President Obama committed $3.5 billion over three years to global food security programming. This commitment became USAID’s flagship initiative on food security, called Feed the Future (FtF), which over the last four years has been committed to reducing food insecurity in its 19 focus countries.

In the eleventh hour of the 113th Congress, a bi-partisan bill to continue funding for FtF, introduced by Representatives Smith (R-NJ) and McCollum (D-MN) passed the House of Representatives and went to the Senate for consideration. The bill was not passed by the Senate, so it will be left to a new Congress to decide the future of food security programming.

FtF has been a major priority for USAID, but without authorized funding the budget is vulnerable every year, which weakens the program’s overall ability to function. Because Obama has spearheaded the effort and refocused USAID’s priorities heavily on this program, many people have politicized the initiative, which further jeopardizes its ability to gain sustained funding.

Regardless of the political dynamics, FtF has revitalized the U.S. commitment to agriculture abroad in a way hasn’t been seen in decades.  Although there are certainly ways that FtF can and should be improved, there are several key reasons we should be thinking about how we can cement long-term success by continuing to improve and expand programming, rather than cutting back on food security funding at this critical time.

Poomparai Village is a farming community in Tamil Nadu, India.

A farming community in Tamil Nadu, India.  Photo obtained via Parthan’s flickr photostream under a creative commons license

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Why ODA Still Matters

By Samuel Ha

Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) now exceeds official development assistance (ODA) flows in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Yet despite the falling “bull market” for ODA, many low-income countries continue to rely on foreign assistance to drive economic activity. According to a recent report published by the Center for Global Development, ODA flows to low income countries exceeded FDI by 72 percent in 2012, and in many cases accounts for a huge portion of the government budget.  ODA is particularly critical as it often supports public goods that the private sector will not support and low-income countries cannot afford. Here are the main takeaways from the report:


  1. Aid is effective when aid levels are neither too low nor too high.

The finding that aid levels are subject to a Goldilocks principle of not too little or too much is intuitive, but has received little attention. However, the OECD-driven Global Partnership monitoring framework which tracks global progress on aid effectiveness and donor harmonization did not fully discuss appropriate levels of aid. In addition, the report notes that no mechanism exists for donors and recipients to analyze and moderate aid levels up and down to maintain optimum levels of aid. Continue reading