2014 Partners' Forum

30 JUNE - 1 JULY | Sandton Convention Centre, Johannesburg, South Africa

Session 3B: Bridging the Digital Divide: Making Mobile and ICTs a Reality for All

The session on ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ opened with Kathy Calvin, United Nations Foundation, underlining the importance of mobile phones and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). “When it comes to the path from poverty to prosperity, there are no silver bullets, but mobile phones are as close as you can get”, she said.

The speakers in the session stressed that mobiles and ICTs can be enablers in improving access to health services for women and children. Aside from this, when the use of mobiles is encouraged within the health sector, it also contributes to financial inclusion and improving access to education services. Mobiles are critical because programmes such as civil registration and vital statistics, etc. cannot be scaled up through the use of conventional methods.

Mobile phones can be seen everywhere. Globally, we now have 7 billion connections, with four out of five new connections coming from developing countries. This has been largely demand driven. Professor C.O Onyebuchi Chukwu, Minister of Health (Nigeria) highlighted that Nigeria has a penetration rate of nearly 85% and that more than half of individuals and families in the country have access to a mobile. This makes them an important tool in the fight against marginalization.

Despite their potential, barriers continue to persist in bridging access to mobiles and ICTs. Several panellists highlighted that a significant barrier is the cost of delivering services; technology is not the problem, cost is. Other problems highlighted included: network coverage, availability of electricity (charging phones) and regulatory issues. Kathy Calvin stated that we need to “bridge the gap between individuals and communities which have access to communication and those who do not; if we have to reach the last child standing, then we must leverage technology”. Talking about the success of the MAMA programme, she stressed that we need to bridge the gender gap when it comes to access to mobiles and ICTs.

Solutions do exist and key stakeholders are making determined efforts to bridge the digital divide. Gustav Praekelt, Praekelt Foundation noted that “we need to leverage existing behaviours”. Where literacy is an issue, he suggested we rely on voice services, which can be accessed even on basic handsets. Using voice based services is an existing behaviour and every mobile user is familiar with it. Given that the mobile revolution has been largely driven by the private sector, it is no surprise that the sector is also working to eliminate some of the barriers to access. Maya Makanjee, Vodacom, highlighted one such innovation, i.e. the use of solar power in areas where electricity is unreliable. Aya Caldwell, Novartis Foundation said that “we need to think of mobile or ICTs enabled innovations in the context of the existing health system”.

All partners noted that partnerships are critical in creating an enabling environment for increased use of mobiles and ICTs for women’s and children’s health. This includes the private sector which has been successful in several countries in identifying business models around mobile services that yield both profit and achievement of social objectives.

Sharon D’Agostino, Johnson & Johnson, closed the session by stating - “We need to remember that in bridging the digital divide, we can truly be there for every individual who needs us”.

  1. About the 2014 Partners’ Forum
  2. The 2014 Partners’ Forum begins: Now it is in our hands
  3. Plenary 1: Healthy women and children at the centre of development
  4. Session 1A: “Fast-track” countries share stories of success
  5. Session 1B: Building a Future Where Children Survive and Thrive
  6. Session 1C: Delivering Immunisation Together: Hitting the MDGs and health goals beyond 2015
  7. Session 1D: Every Mother, Every Newborn: Ensuring Quality of Care at Birth
  8. Plenary 2: Health: A model of Accountability for Post-2015
  9. Session 2A: Better data for better policy making, programming and accountability
  10. Session 2B: The Every Woman Every Child health model of accountability in the post 2015 era
  11. Session 2C: Accountability for RMNCH: The African perspective and prospects
  12. Session 2D: Countdown to 2015: Fulfilling the health agenda for women and children
  13. Session 2E: Addressing the Nutrition needs in a Post-2015 Agenda
  14. Plenary 3: Equity – leave no one behind
  15. Session 3A: Ending Preventable Maternal Mortality
  16. Session 3B: Bridging the Digital Divide: Making Mobile and ICTs a Reality for All
  17. Session 3C: Integrating services for HIV/AIDS and RMNCH to promote equitable access to quality care for women and children
  18. Session 3D: Universal Health Coverage and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: Common Goals, Shared Challenges
  19. Session 3E: Equitable access to quality midwifery
  20. Plenary 4: Leveraging Investments for Health and Sustainable Development
  21. Session 4A: Scaling-up Innovations: New ways of dealing with unfinished business
  22. Session 4B: Investing in Adolescent and Youth as Agents of Change
  23. Session 4C: Mobilization of resources to RMNCH investments for reaching 2035 targets
  24. Session 4E: Getting It Right: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Family Planning in the Post-2015 Agenda
  25. Plenary 5: Our Common Vision – Delivering health and development for women and children beyond 2015
  26. Youth engagement at the 2014 Partners' Forum
  27. Private sector leaders reflect on post-2015 priorities and commitments to newborns
  28. World leaders: Women and children must be central to new 2030 global poverty goals