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DEVELOPMENT REPORT - Mobile Phones as a Public Health Tool in Developing Nations

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This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

A fisherman in India speaking on his mobile phone
A fisherman in India speaking on his mobile phone

Wireless phones are connecting the developing world at a rate of about one million new phones each day. And with them come important new uses for the technology.

Some of the ideas are being developed by a company in Washington, D.C. Paul Meyer is one of three people who started Voxiva, V-O-X-I-V-A, in two thousand one. They began with a simple question, he says. How can technology help countries deal with health problems or other issues?

Some leading social investors including the Acumen Fund helped launch Voxiva. The World Bank, the United States government and others helped the company expand.

Voxiva has been working with the government of Rwanda for about three years. The company created an information technology system for health workers to collect and share information about HIV/AIDS.

All health centers in Rwanda that provide care for HIV/AIDS report into the system every week. They can use different forms of technology, including the Internet, to connect to the system. But Paul Meyer says most of the centers use mobile phones. They report numbers of new patients and the treatments provided. They also report on the supplies of drugs available at each center.

The system cuts dependence on paper-driven communication. It gives health officials the ability to make decisions based on real-time information. In other words, the information is from right now, not weeks or months ago. With the system, health centers around the country can also receive information without any delay.

Paul Meyer says the Rwandan government spent about one million dollars to have the TRACnet system developed and put into place. TRACnet has since been expanded to other parts of Rwanda's health care system.

Rural health centers in the Amazon Basin of Peru have been using a Voxiva system for more than five years. They use it to report cases of cholera, measles and other diseases. Indonesia is using Voxiva technology to follow cases of bird flu.

Disease surveillance systems have also been deployed in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, India.

Paul Meyer says the technology is basic enough to have many uses. In some Peruvian cities, for example, citizens use Voxiva technology to report crimes and to interact with local government services.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report. A link to Voxiva's Web site can be found at www.unsv.com. I'm Jill Moss.

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