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Empowering women for better results in development

<p>Feature story</p>

September 25, 2012

First Ladies of several African countries, government officials and representatives from international and civil society organizations working on development and women’s issues gathered in New York on the side-lines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting to discuss ways to empower women and youth especially through digital technologies.

Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé participated in the session entitled Partnership in action: Ensuring children everywhere are born HIV-free. Calling on women to lead the way for social justice, Mr Sidibé introduced two UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassadors Naomi Watts and Aishwarya Rai Bachan. “These two women have the power to change the world - nothing could be nobler than a generation free from HIV,” he said.

Speaking about her experiences in the field Ms Watts focused on the importance of partnerships in the incredible progress made in getting to zero new HIV infections among children. “But we are not there yet. One baby is born with HIV almost every minute and currently only one of every four children in need of treatment is actually receiving it. To me, these are not facts and figures but faces with families,” she said. “Surely we can keep moving until we get to zero.”

Mrs Rai Bachchan, who was appointed a new Goodwill Ambassador earlier in the day, shared her passion to learn and to make a real difference in the lives of women and families. She also called on the media to do its part. “We need to draw attention to something that needs attention,” she said. “Women need to find their voice, anywhere a baby is born we need to work there.”

The event also focused on the advances in technology and health. The provision of health services and information via mobile technologies such as mobile phones, also known as mobile health or mHealth, has been proven effective in providing greater access to healthcare to populations in low income countries. Using such technology has also shown cost efficiencies and an improvement in the capacity of health systems to provide quality healthcare.

Recent evidence from randomized scientific trials and studies has demonstrated that SMS messaging in particular can positively impact treatment outcomes. For example, results from a study conducted in Kenya on November 2010, showed that patients who received SMS support had significantly higher adherence to antiretroviral treatment.

With 5.3 billion mobile subscribers across the globe and almost 90% of the world’s population covered by a wireless signal, the mobile phone has become the most widely spread communica­tions technology platform. Participants at the meeting brought ideas on how mobile technologies could help scale up access to health for women and youth in low and middle-income countries.

A multitude of mHealth solutions have emerged over the years in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, according to the Global Observatory for eHealth at the World Health Organization. However, a recent report commissioned by the Advance Development for Africa Foundation, highlights that despite the strong promise demonstrated by mHealth tools and applications, the current land­scape is characterized by a proliferation of unsustainable pilot projects that often expire once initial funding is exhausted.

The event was co-hosted by Advance Development for Africa Foundation, Digital He@lth Initiative and the Global Partnerships Forum in cooperation with UNAIDS, UNDP, UN Office for Partnerships, the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, and UN Habitat.