Members of the Broadband Commission and representatives from several East African governments visited the Mayange Millennium Village earlier this month to witness some of the success mobile technology has had in advancing health, education, infrastructure and business development in one of the poorest areas of Rwanda. Hosted by Jeffrey Sachs and the Millennium Villages Project, the visit enabled partners to see how information and communications technologies could be used in an integrated approach to rural development and help whole communities lift themselves out of poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals. As a first step, Ericsson installed mobile phone towers in Mayange, bringing mobile connectivity to a remote and once isolated region. Since then, the village has undergone a transformation. Schools now have computer labs and internet. New internet kiosks and shops offering training courses have popped up in the village. And farmers regularly use their phones to determine prices at local markets.
Providing health services to the poor in remote areas has long been a development challenge. But since mobile technology has become more accessible, whole communities — including the Millennium Villages — have seen major gains. The 140 community health workers based in Mayange represent the backbone of health care delivery, traveling from household to household and reaching families that can’t make it to clinics. Sachs described how simple mobile phone technology allows health workers to update patient records in real time via text messaging. One innovative platform health workers use, called ChildCount+, is having an immediate impact on the health of mothers and children. In Mayange, maternal deaths have been nearly eliminated, diarrhea is down from 24% to 7%, and 100% coverage of measles vaccination has been achieved.
Visitors to Mayange were met by community health workers, Millennium Villages Project field staff and students at the Myanage Health Centre, where they were able to talk to patients, view facilities and witness a demonstration of information technology applications. Klaus M. Leisinger, president and managing director of the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development and long-term partner of the Millennium Villages Project, took notice that antimalarial drugs provided by the organization continued to have an impact. In Mayange malaria prevalence has dropped close to zero, in tandem with the distribution of insecticide treated bed nets also provided by Novartis. Other visitors to Mayange included Hamadoun I. Touré, secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union; Cheick Sidi Diarra, under secretary-general, United Nations; and Suvi Lindén, International Telecommunications Union special envoy for the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.