Two thirds of the world’s 3.3 billion mobile phones are owned in developing countries. Social changemakers recognize this opportunity to reach those in need with information, tips, and resources that would otherwise be inaccessible at large scale. Here, we profile three innovative uses of mobile technology to combat developing world challenges.

20081227-the-goals6A Twitter tip informed me of Project Masiluleke in South Africa. Due to the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in South Africa, individuals avoid getting tested and 90% of those infected are not getting treatment. In the KwaZulu Natal province, >40% of the population are infected. The project takes advantage of the fact that nearly 90% of individuals use a mobile phone, and their use of “Please Call Me” messages creates an SMS advertising opportunity of over 1 million messages per day. Frog Design provides great insight into the use of new mobile media, consideration of the mostly-male target audience’s cultural attitudes, and the initial success promoting the national AIDS hotline and private HIV self-testing.

20081227-the-goals1Yesterday, Google Africa launched Google SMS in Uganda. In addition to the familiar Search functionality, the Uganda edition starts with two other channels developed specifically for the needs of the poor. One channel provides health and farming tips. The other hosts a marketplace, something of a Craigslist browseable entirely via SMS. These are just two starter examples of mobile apps that can be supported by the Grameen Foundation’s AppLab.
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20090630-mobile-roundup2Perhaps the newest organization, FrontlineSMS:Medic helps medical centers provide support to doctors in rural areas through mobile connectivity. The central clinic receives and responds to field messages from a laptop while medical workers visiting patients use mobile phones to send informational messages and requests. Since community health workers may leave the clinic for up to a month to serve large remote communities, this communication link with the clinic can accelerate and widen care coverage. Springwise reports that FrontlineSMS:Medic has even modified camera phones to become diagnostic devices for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. In the Stanford + Portland spirit of its founding team, this is a free, open-source software program. The Discovery Channel has a nice interview with Josh Nesbit from their pilot program, “Mobiles in Malawi“.

Discuss these and other mobile innovations by social entrepreneurs July 1, 4-6pm ET in the Social Entrepreneur Chat on Twitter (#SocEntChat), hosted by Ashoka. (via Cooper-Hewitt Design Blog)

20081227-the-goals6This week, Ashton Kutcher triumphed over CNN in a race to amass one million followers on Twitter, winning the privilege to donate 10,000 anti-mosquito bed nets to combat malaria. The choice of prize may sound bizarre, but it is perfectly timed for the upcoming World Malaria Day on Friday, April 25. Malaria kills one child every 30 seconds, and more than 80 percent of infections occur in Africa. At $10 per net, the 10,000-net pledge amounted to a $100,000 donation from Ashton to charity Malaria No More, headquartered in New York City. In addition, Ashton has garnered similar pledges from other celebs including Oprah and Ryan Seacrest, reporting a total of $1 million to buy 100,000 nets at last count.

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20090419-ashton-donationThe news is actually better than most know. Many, if not all, of the donated nets will be Olyset Nets, profiled in a January post here on CbD. They are:
  1. the best-designed nets currently available, which can kill mosquitoes on contact and last up to 5 years instead of only 5 months
  2. produced by A to Z Textile Mills in Tanzania, creating thousands of jobs and stimulating the country’s economy.

Malaria No More cited benefits of malaria prevention beyond saved lives on its blog: malaria prevention leads to

  • a more productive work force
  • reclamation of 25% of a family’s income usually devoted to malaria treatment
  • reclamation of 40% of Africa’s health expenditure that can be redirected from malaria to other high-priority issues like HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and water safety.

Other celebrities to lend their support to the fight against malaria include Kiefer Sutherland, who appeared in a somber message during this season’s 24: Redemption on Fox calling upon viewers to donate nets. Malaria No More has rallied many other famous names – American Idol contestants, UK’s Gordon Brown, Dave Chappelle, Bono – to the goal of distributing bed nets to 100% of those who need them by December 31, 2010.

20081227-the-goals6Every 30 seconds, a child dies of malaria – a totally preventable disease – and more than 80 percent of malaria infections occur in Africa. Each kid gets malaria 2-5 times a year!

We’ve had a hard time finding design objects for MDG #6, the fight against HIV/AIDS and malaria. As it turns out, the solution is extremely straightforward: every home in a developing country needs to have an insecticide-treated net (ITN) for mosquito-free sleep.

20090109-practice-safe-sleep1Bednets are the most effective way to prevent malaria, but millions of families in malaria-plagued countries do not have them. These nets, however, are not without room for improvement. Nets can be treated with insecticide, killing mosquitoes on contact and making it less likely that they can penetrate the nets. But the insecticide on traditional nets fades after 3-5 months, and most families won’t deal with the cost or hassle of getting their nets re-treated.

A to Z Textile Mills in Tanzania and Sumitomo Chemical in Japan teamed up to manufacture the Olyset Net, which retains its insecticide for 5 years, guaranteed – helping us make forward progress in slowing down malaria. They have also reduced the cost of a bednet from $7 to $5 and made them tear-proof by improving the weaving technique (pdf). Props especially for local production in Africa, thus reducing shipping costs to distribute the nets in the region that most needs them.

The Tanzania factory has created 3,200 jobs. Each net can safely sleep up to 3 people under it, and distribution is prioritized for children under 5 years old and pregnant women. Most of the nets are provided free of charge, as recommended by the World Health Organization, through aid programmes like Roll Back Malaria and UNICEF.


George W. Bush visited the A to Z Textile Mills factory last year as part of his $1.2 billion, five-year program to reduce malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.

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