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With Mobile Technology Vodafone and the U.N. Improve Health in Brazil's Remote Communities

For Vodafone, the partnership is likely to offer more than just a corporate social responsibility boost—untapped communities also represent potential new customers.

The Vodafone Foundation and the United Nations are working together again on a mobile initiative for social good—this time in Brazil and with an eye on mobile technology for public health.

Announced at this week's Mobile World Congress, the new initiative will assess potential ways of connecting indigenous communities in remote areas of Brazil with health information, such as vaccination scheduling and maternal health guidelines. The effort is a public-private partnership between the U.N., Vodafone, the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the Brazilian ggovernment, and the mHealth Alliance

"In many of the world’s most remote regions, mobile networks are now connecting communities to information and services at an unprecedented level, providing opportunities to deliver health benefits to traditionally underserved populations," said Kathy Calvin, CEO of the UN Foundation.  "This collaboration with the Vodafone Foundation, PAHO and the Brazilian Ministry of Health will focus on one community to determine how wireless communications can be used to improve health outcomes in some of Brazil’s hardest to reach communities."

For Vodafone, the partnership is likely to offer more than just a corporate social responsibility (CSR) boost—untapped communities represent potential new customers and research in the name of CSR can often double as consumer research for an emerging market. Fast Company previously interviewed Mobile Metrix founder Melanie Edwards, who is placing mobile phones in the hands of low-income Brazilian youth to collect consumer research data, which simultaneously provides the youth with employment. 

But the potential health benefits are significant, and innovations in mobile technology have been piloted extensively in other parts of the world as potential solutions to health information gaps

"Mobile technology can strengthen health systems by increasing the quantity, quality and timeliness of health data," said Adele Waugaman, Senior Director of the U.N. Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership.  "By undertaking this targeted analysis to identify specific health information bottlenecks in one community before considering mobile solutions, the Brazilian Health Ministry will ensure it builds an mHealth program that can deliver maximum results and the most value for the money."  

Research is already underway in Brazil on the topics of  disease surveillance, supply chains, and human resources, with an eye on how to better improve health communication to the public, given that Brazil's remote communities lack access to primary clinics. The U.N. released a preliminary report this week called Health Information and Health Care: The Role of Technology in Unlocking Data and Wellness.

"The ubiquity of mobile devices presents a unique opportunity to break through an often fragmented universe of health data and to help facilitate the flow of health information, whether through simple voice calls, SMS messaging, or wireless data transmission," said Jody Ranck, lead author of the report. "Moreover, when data is shared readily from the village level to central health systems and back again, it can help prevent stock-outs of key medical supplies and other immediate problems, while promoting accountability and providing practitioners with knowledge of how the data they collect is being used."

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[Image: Ian Starr]

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