UN embraces mobility to tackle global health issues

By: Neil Versel | Sep 22, 2011        

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UN Foundation iPad appMobile health is on the big world stage now, at the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting.

Last week, the UN introduced its first mobile app, delivering news from various UN agencies and programs to Android, iPhone/iPad and Windows Phone devices. Among other functions, the app allows users to support and get customized updates from UN Foundation efforts in healthcare, including the mHealth Alliance. (The alliance, a collaboration of the UN Foundation, the Vodafone Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, this month named Patricia Mechael as its executive director.)

Then, this week, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, who is presiding over the 66th session of the UN General Assembly now underway in New York, called on world leaders to embrace mobile technologies in disease control and prevention. Al-Nasser, the UN ambassador from Qatar, said that new information and communications technologies like mobile connectivity offer a “fresh and invigorating approach,” according to an official UN account of his remarks.

“Only five years ago, who would have imagined that today a woman in sub-Saharan Africa could use a mobile phone to access health information on bringing her pregnancy safely to term?” Al-Nasser said at an awards ceremony accompanying the General Assembly’s High-level Meeting on the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs). “Or that today a young person in the Middle East could use a mobile phone to help manage diabetes?”

Al-Nasser added that mobile devices could help achieve the health component of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, including greater access to health services, the reduction of maternal and infant mortality and control of diseases that disproportionately affect poverty-stricken regions of the world, by 2015. “Indeed, there is growing evidence that the use of these technologies can be a critical component of some aspects of health. I fully believe that information and communications technologies can enable countries to meet the 2015 deadline,” the Qatari diplomat said.

At the meeting on NCDs, UN officials including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon introduced a global campaign to tackle conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer, that the UN says is responsible for 63 percent of all deaths worldwide.