Can Technology Save A Child’s Life?

Goal 4: Reduce childhood mortality

This is part of our year-long series “Millennium Development Goals Tech Roadmap”

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

Target 4.A: Reduce by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate

Since 1990, the mortality rate for children under five years old has nearly halved worldwide, going from 90 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 48 in 2012.  Newborns account for 44 percent of those deaths.  In 2012, an estimated 6.6 million children – 18,000 a day – died from mostly preventable diseases, such as diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia.  Undernutrition contributes to 45 percent of under-five deaths.  High mortality is increasingly seen in the poorest and most marginalized areas of the world, specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia where 80 percent – 5.3 million yearly – of these deaths are concentrated.

Nonetheless, there have been some improvements in some countries.  Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Nepal, Timor-Leste and Tanzania have all been able to lower mortality rates by two-thirds since 1990.

Technology has contributed greatly to helping to reduce childhood mortality.  With the rapid growth of mobile technology in the developing world, there is no surprise that initiatives around mobile health, or mHealth, have taken off.  According to Tech pH, “Africa’s mobile web use doubled between 2012 and 2013 from 11.3% to 23.7% respectively. It also showed that about 25% of all web access from across the African continent came from mobile phones.”

SMS and voice calls are the most widely used for childhood related mHealth programs being developed by governments and NGOs.  Mobile technology is easy to use, uses less data and don’t require a large amount of broadband connectivity.  With just a few clicks on their mobiles, parents can now access apps that give them information about getting vaccinations on time, finding a food pantry or locating the nearest HIV/AIDS testing clinic.

The first month, and particularly the first 24 hours, are the most dangerous in a child’s life, and yes, there is finally an app being developed for that issue.  “The First 1,000 Days” app is being developed to use mobile communication to address health concerns starting from when a woman first becomes pregnant until the child’s second birthday. Specifically, the app aims to stress the importance of nutrition and breastfeeding.  Children who are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life are 14 times more likely to survive than non-breastfed children.

Mobile technology is also providing support for health care workers.  IntraHealth International provides access to better training for Kenyan health workers through locally designed technology on mobiles.  Traditional classroom training can be expensive, time consuming, and often out of reach to health workers in remote areas.  This initiative will design and test an open source, mobile learning program for these workers that is low-cost, easy to use and adapt and workable on commonly used mobile devices in Kenya.  Eighty maternal health workers will be trained in the initial phase by Kenyan software developers, which will include many emerging women technologists.

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