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Ericsson joins new UN initiative to bring digital-health benefits to Africa

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Ericsson is joining forces with the United Nations Office for Partnerships to use telecommunications to bring mobile-health applications and services (m-health) and telemedicine to rural Africa.

As a founding member of the UN’s Digital Health Initiative, Ericsson is taking another step in its ongoing commitment to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which aim to reduce global extreme poverty.
The Digital Health Initiative (DHI) is a public/private partnership that works to create innovative models for the development and delivery of global health to millions in developing countries.

This will be critical to help achieve those Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are related to health, which specifically address the need to tackle diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and other infectious and communicable diseases, reduce child mortality, and improve maternal health. The MDG named “Develop a global partnership for development” also points out the vital role that the private sector can play, especially in terms of information and communication technology, in meeting the other goals.

Mobile communications have proved to make a positive difference to people in developing countries, enabling cost-effective access to basic services, such as health, particularly in rural areas where there is little or no infrastructure.
A key goal of the DHI is to confront the diseases of poverty more efficiently and effectively. Engaging the private sector is seen as critical to reaching this goal. Mobile communications in particular can empower individuals, communities, health workers and health institutions to streamline knowledge capture, collection and communication in the field of health.

As the leading telecom provider, Ericsson will use its expertise to spearhead the initiative’s technology stream, and will explore the use of mobile communications to deliver telemedicine to rural communities, to help to improve access to and delivery of emergency and general health services, assist with disease surveillance and control, enhance the collection of basic health data such as birth and death registration, and deliver mobile learning to health workers in remote areas. Ericsson’s experience in India and Bangladesh shows that even people with an average income of USD 1.25 per day can have access to medical care with the help of mobile connectivity.

Carl-Henric Svanberg, Ericsson President and Chief Executive Officer, says: “Telecommunications play a vital role in facilitating access to health services, which help end the cycle of poverty and empower communities to improve their own social and economic situations. This initiative reflects Ericsson’s ongoing commitment to harnessing our technical leadership to develop sustainable business models that bridge the digital, and health, divides.”

Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the UN Office for Partnerships, says: “We believe the DHI will form the basis of a strategic framework for new model partnerships across the ICT, pharmaceutical and health-technology sectors with a view to concrete deliverables in the accelerated delivery of the health-related MDGs. In this regard, the United Nations sees Ericsson as a core strategic partner in the emerging field of digital health for development.”

Joining the DHI builds on Ericsson’s global experience from the Gramjyoti project, which brought a range of services including telemedicine, m-learning and m-governance to rural communities in India, as well as the Alokito Bangladesh project, which brought high-speed, internet-enabled mobile learning and healthcare to the region of the capital, Dhaka.

In Africa, Ericsson is committed to bringing mobile connectivity to over half a million people in the Millennium Village sites in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, Malawi and Ethiopia. Health, in addition to agriculture, education and infrastructure, is one of the key areas of this initiative, and together with The Earth Institute at Columbia University, Ericsson is piloting the use of health-related applications and telemedicine in the villages.

The Millennium Villages provide an excellent basis from which to understand the needs of the villagers, and in turn pilot new innovative technological solutions in cooperation with the national health ministries and project staff.
As the technology partner, Ericsson’s role is to develop and rollout the solutions. Through innovative partnerships like the Millennium Villages, and the DHI, Ericsson hopes to demonstrate the potential of mobile communications in the area of global health.

Other founding members of the Digital Health Initiative include: Commonwealth Business Council, Pfizer, the Global Business Council for AIDS, TB and Malaria, and the African Business Round Table.

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