The digital transformation of emergency relief and healthcare
The digital revolution is already having many effects on our society.
Mobile apps and other resources abound with convenient solutions for improving people’s lives – from ordering food to finding a date. But technological advances are also playing a big role in far more crucial ways – helping organisations deliver quality, targeted humanitarian action and developmental assistance where it is needed.
In 2010, when Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake, organisations carrying out rescue and relief operations made use of platforms which crowd-sourced information in order to locate and reach survivors.
Google launched their ‘Google Person Finder’ web app, where people could use a virtual message board to post and look for information on each other’s whereabouts. Ushahidi, developed as a response to civil unrest after the 2007 Kenyan Presidential elections, is another example of a digital platform enabling organisations to use SMS requests for help to assess the situation on the ground and organise their efforts accordingly.
Organisations are embracing these changes
These are just a few of the innovative tools which have shown the real potential of technology in humanitarian responses. Many organisations are starting to embrace technological innovation, and are teaming up and collaborating with the private sector to produce digital tools which could solve problems in these often chaotic situations.
The Global Humanitarian Lab is one result of this new, innovative approach to humanitarian work. It is a cross-sector partnership founded by Terre des Hommes and five other organisations, which works together to accelerate development and provide more efficient and effective humanitarian action by pooling together resources.
Terre des Hommes has successfully pioneered innovative, technological solutions to improve healthcare in countries within the Global South.
The introduction of electronic tablets in remote health centres in Burkina Faso has helped save children’s lives by improving the diagnoses of childhood illnesses. In Burkina Faso, one in ten children die before reaching the age of five due to a lack of qualified medical staff.
These deaths are avoidable if diagnosed and treated properly – something Terre des Hommes’ project helps medical staff do. The project uses an app on each tablet to assist nurses during medical consultations.
The nurses use the tablet to register the child’s symptoms, and the app then generates questions to complete the diagnosis.
Once all the phases have been completed, the system provides a diagnosis and prescription for the sick child. Besides providing the tablets, the Terre des Hommes team trains nurses to use them and installs chargers and solar panels so health centres have the electricity needed to charge the tablets.
Aside from Burkina Faso, Terre des Hommes has tested the project in Mali, and other West African countries such as Niger and Mauritania have expressed an interest in the digital app. The team responsible for the project is exploring the possibility of extending the application to other health areas, like malnutrition and prenatal consultations.
Supporting free healthcare
As part of Terre des Hommes’ wider work, the app also formed part of a larger campaign for the government in Burkina Faso to provide free healthcare for all children under five. This concept was incorporated into Burkinabe law in 2016, and has saved lives in areas where parents could not afford to see a doctor.
Digital technology is providing a catalyst for advances of many kinds, in many societies across the world – from the mundane to the life changing. With further support and investment, cutting edge solutions in healthcare and beyond can spread technology’s benefits to the people who need it most.