Brazil plans to expand Internet access with low-cost broadband service across the country, the communications minister said Thursday.
The unprecedented reach provided by cellular telephone networks combined with the power of ICT applications geared towards health care has the potential to save countless lives every year and revolutionize public health.
The unprecedented reach provided by cellular telephone networks combined with the power of ICT applications geared towards the health care sector has the potential to save countless lives every year and revolutionize the public health sector, according to a new report from the World Health Organization. This new report adds to a growing body of evidence –including research, pilot programs and established applications –that support mHealth as a means to address public health concerns around the globe.
The report, “mHealth: New Horizons for Health through Mobile Technologies,” examines the impact mobile networks and the Internet are already having on improving access to health care worldwide and how the reach can be multiplied moving forward, by surveying member states on their individual mHealth activities and concerns. One hundred twelve countries responded to the WHO call with 83 percent indicating they have already implemented at least one mHealth initiative. South East Asia, the Americas and Europe were the regions with the highest percentage of countries reporting initiatives.
As the report notes, the International Telecommunications Union says the world now has over 5 billion people subscribing to wireless services –with over 70 percent of them living in low- or middle-income countries. Existing mobile networks already reach far beyond existing electricity grids and provide reach to remote locales. The ability to access qualified health care remotely also helps overcome infrastructure, mobility or societal constraints to individuals in need of treatment.
The four most reported types of initiatives around the world cited in the WHO report were call centers, toll free services, emergency and disaster response, and mobile telemedicine. Most pilot programs currently deployed are focused on a single issues associated with access and information sharing, but the WHO expects more complex systems to develop as mHealth matures and stakeholders find answers to challenges such as data security and government develop firm policies and globally accepted standards.
mHealth applications are being developed or are already employed across dozens of health care sectors including patient record keeping, disease testing, helplines, emergency response and treatment of chronic conditions. Programs are being implemented by a variety of government, NGO and private stakeholders – with many initiatives conducted through multi-stakeholder efforts –covering a range of health concerns including maternal health, malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. MHealth has quickly emerged in the last couple of years as an arena where a broad array of stakeholders see the potential for great benefit from developing applications.
One program, EpiSurveyor, uses a mobile application to allow community health workers to upload and share data from remote locations almost instantaneously. The project, run by the company DataDyne, has the support of the United Nations foundation and 6telecom giant Vodacom partnership. The application has already been employed by UNICEF, the World Bank, the Red Cross and the CDC to enhance data collection capabilities. Kenyan health care officials recently used the application to track services for mothers and newborns in a bid to improve service delivery in the future.
While Africa has become a prime continent for pilot programs by NGOs and public-private sector partnerships, it is the region with the lowest percentage of programs in the WHO report. The authors cite lack of infrastructure and general health care availability for governments’ inability to implement program like disaster response that are widespread in more developed regions.
The use of ICT tools to drive reform protest movements captured the imaginations across North Africa and the Middle East. But it has also drawn the attention of repressive governments with an eye on censorship.
The use of Internet-based and other ICT tools to drive reform protest movements captured the imaginations of tech-savvy individuals across North Africa and the Middle East over the last year. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter helped drive street demonstrations in a dozen countries and secure international support for reform efforts around the world. But the trend has also drawn the attention of repressive governments and some within the ICT sector fear censorship battles may heat up in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
Google Inc. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt says his company fully expects to be the focus of disagreements with repressive regimes and fears Google employees may be at risk from detention and torture in some countries.
“I think this problem is going to get worse. The reason is that as the technology becomes more pervasive and as the citizenry becomes completely wired and the content gets localized to the language of the country, it becomes an issue like television,” Schmidt said at the Google-organized Dublin summit on militant violence this week.
“If you look at television in most of these countries, television is highly regulated because the leaders, partial dictators, half dictators or whatever you want to call them understand the power of television imagery to keep their citizenry in some bucket,” he continued.
Governments ramping up their efforts to shut down the information highway is something Internet service providers have been grappling with on and off for the last decade. Experience with China’s censorship efforts in particular has drawn significant attention. Yahoo! Inc. faced serious public backlash after its 2002 provision of user information led to the arrest, abuse and imprisonment of Wang Xiaoning.
Since then ICT sector players have clashed on and off with authorities in China, and elsewhere, as the tide of support for universal access has gained prominence. Both Google and Yahoo! are members of the multi-stakeholder Global Network Initiative, an effort to promote freedom of expression and privacy, and like other major ICT companies have initiated efforts to increase access to services in developing countries.
Earlier this month the United Nations affirmed its support of access to the Internet as a human right, with Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue issuing a report making the case for Internet access to enjoy the same legal protections under international standards as other methods of mass communications.
But the practical truth is that as long as authorities maintain control over networks and infrastructure, fully unhindered access to the Internet, its tools and information is still just dream for hundreds of millions of users worldwide.
The U.S. State Department confirmed shortly after the release of La Rue’s report that American authorities are investing millions to fund efforts to bypass government censorship through the use of “shadow” voice and digital communications networks that allow users to send information, according to the New York Times and other media. The benefit, say proponents of alternative networks, is that even in cases where dissidents can use circumvention technologies to sidestep censors, if authorities have slowed down network speeds users may still be unable to post most content.
A variety of innovative options are being considered – some of which sound like they could have come right out from Q’s workshop in a James Bond movie. Consider the following examples cited by the New York Times and other reports:
Until governments around the world cease efforts to restrict Internet access and the international community develops a legally enforceable mechanism to compel countries to comply, censorship circumvention efforts will remain at the forefront of the battle for fair, equitable universal global access.
Glyn Davies, who represents Montgomeryshire in the House of Commons, insisted that high-speed internet connections are “crucial” for firms based outside of the major towns and cities, BBC News reports.
However, he stressed that broadband is also important to the wider public and could help to boost entrepreneurship in rural communities.
“Good access to the internet is something that is going to be necessary to sell houses, to set up businesses and retain public services,” Mr Davies commented.
He was speaking after a report by telecoms regulator Ofcom revealed that broadband penetration in Wales is lagging behind many other parts of the UK.
Ben Underwood, director of the Country Land and Business Association in Wales, recently suggested that the scarcity of high-speed internet connections in rural communities is putting some firms off establishing themselves in these areas.
In the U.S. and Canada, Netflix has largely positioned itself as a complement to existing pay TV services. With its great Latin American adventure, it may have the opportunity to not just supplement pay TV, but to replace it in that region.