Calling for action from the global health and development communities

As the conference season approaches, we are excited to be part of the Global Health and Innovation Conference being held in New Haven with Unite for Sight and Yale University on 12-13 April 2014. Standing next to Paul Ellingstad from Hewlett-Packard, Nina Dudnik from Seeding Labs, and Tricia Morente from Kangu, Bandi Mbubi will be talking about the impact of new technologies on the lives of people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

There are obvious challenges for health and development in areas affected by conflict, and DRC is one of the 15 countries globally with current UN peacekeeping operations:

“…DRC has among the lowest levels of human development in the world, according to the UN Development Program. Health services are too far away, too expensive, and too poor quality to contribute to long-term health; life expectancy in the country is just 48.” (USAID, 2014)

The call for the development of technology which uses ethically-sourced, conflict-free minerals from the DRC is one that is long overdue.

The DRC has large deposits of gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum, all of which are used in our new technologies. These minerals are called conflict minerals as they are often extracted in appalling conditions in mines controlled by armed groups. Much is smuggled out of the country and sold on to smelters that then provide the raw materials for the production of our phones and other technological devices. It is the profit from this trade in conflict minerals that has fuelled and financed much of the war in the DRC.

In designing and implementing global health projects and innovative solutions, many people have highlighted the benefits that technologies are bringing to accessing, delivering and monitoring health care. For example, mobile health (also known as mhealth) has been growing fast, with consumers and industry stakeholders leveraging its potential (see reports such as Deloitte, 2012).

As these exciting developments take place, Congo Calling is urging all those participating in global health projects, such as researchers, technical specialists, developers, and leaders, to look twice at the sourcing of minerals used in technological devices that are enabling such innovative advances.

It takes simple steps of awareness and action to make an impact. How organisations and teams working in the field of global health might choose to take an ethical stance will vary. Three of the solutions that are readily achievable include:

  • Using our voice and communication strategies to ensure that the people and organisations we engage with, including technology companies, are aware that we want the technologies we are using, developing and procuring to be conflict-mineral free

  • Adopting conflict-free procurement practices and including these in frameworks, agreements and policies as part of implementing projects and also communicating this to project partners and stakeholders

  • Forming a coalition of conflict-free global health initiatives, similar to the university campus-wide approach that has been approved at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, UK

Healthcare systems are only going to increase their reliance on technological solutions to improve lives across the globe. We, as part of advocates for these solutions today, cannot ignore an obvious link between our technology solutions and the impact it could have on the people of DRC. If technology companies were to use ethically-sourced conflict-free minerals from the DRC they could make a major positive contribution to health and development in the DRC.

We eagerly look forward to hearing the actions and solutions that this innovative community, meeting this weekend at the Global Health and Innovation conference will propose.

Written by Rupa Chilvers, Director of Tangerine Bee, delivering on evidence-informed strategies and communications for high impact in global health and development.

Further information

Conference Session CA: Technology Solutions

  • “Taking Heed of Maslow: Avoiding the Urge to Nail Every Health Challenge with the Technology Hammer,” Paul Ellingstad, Partner and Program Development Director, Sustainability and Social Innovation, Hewlett-Packard
  • “The Next [Global] Scientific Revolution,” Nina Dudnik, PhD, Founder & CEO, Seeding Labs
  • “Conflict-Free Congo: The Paradox of Our New Technologies,” Bandi Mbubi, Founder, Congo Calling
  • “Technology Solutions: Crowd-funding Maternal Health,” Tricia Morente, COO, Kangu

MONUSCO – United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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