Humanitarianism, meet technology

If you’re living in an industrialized country, the chances are, when you go to the doctor, you kind of just take for granted all the humming machines that keep track of your health, provide you with the care you need, and instantly convey information about your medical history.

Now imagine you need medical care in, say, Somalia, or Sri Lanka, or DR Congo.  All those fancy gadgets start to seem a lot more important.  It’s a tragic perversity of the technological revolution that those who most desperately need advanced medical attention often have the fewest tools at their disposal to provide it.

The UN Foundation has partnered with the Vodafone Foundation and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers to create the Humanitarian Technology Challenge to identify the most pressing technological gaps facing humanitarian workers in the field. The three major needs they’ve identified:

  • Reliable Electricity – Availability of power for electronic devices
  • Data Connectivity of Rural District Health Offices — Capability of exchanging data among remote field offices and central health facilities.
  • Patient ID Tied to Health Records – Maintain consistent patient records, including when patients visit different clinics and when they relocate.

Providing humanitarian relief in conflict zones is, as I’ve previously articulated, not easy. Figuring out how to improve technological infrastructure will not solve all of the problems of providing health care in dangerous areas, but it will undoubtedly save lives.

(If you’re in the DC area on June 1-2, you should consider registering your interest in attending the Humanitarian Technology Challenge conference — where these big questions will be asked, discussed, and, hopefully, answered.)