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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