An estimated 3.6 billion people remain offline, and most people who are unconnected live in low-income countries, where an average of just two out of every ten people are online. Now a new initiative aims to reach them with vital health information – by text.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), with support from the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), have announced plans to work with telecommunications companies to text people directly on their mobile phones with vital health messaging to help protect them from COVID-19.
The ITU and the WHO are calling on all telecommunications companies worldwide to join this initiative to, as they put it, “help unleash the power of communication technology to save lives from COVID-19”.
It is hoped that these text messages will reach the billions of people that are not able to connect to the internet for information.
The collaboration will start in the Asia-Pacific region and then roll out globally. The goal is to reach everyone with vital health messages, whatever their connectivity level.
This initiative builds on current efforts to disseminate health messages through the joint WHO-ITU BeHe@lthy BeMobile initiative.
As the WHO and the ITU point out, this is the first pandemic in human history where technology and social media are being used on a massive scale to keep people safe, productive and connected while being physically apart. Now more than ever, the two NGOs say, technology must ensure that everyone can access the information they need.
In particular, they point out, resilient and trustworthy telecommunications networks and services are essential, as more countries, companies and individuals turn to digital technologies to respond to and cope with the impact of COVID-19.
And this means everything from basic text to AI. In fact, building on their longstanding collaboration, the ITU and the WHO are committed to identifying and scaling best evidence-based digital health solutions and to leveraging frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data to diagnose, contain and predict outbreaks better and faster.