We have always emphasized that telecom is a complementary input: Does not solve problems by itself, but makes solutions possible; Multiplies the effects of interventions. Here, in Bill Gates’ thoughtful year-end message, is a great illustration. He is talking about the first winner of a Gates Foundation innovation award, a doctor from Bangladesh:
In 2009, Dr. Hossain was assigned to two districts where immunization rates were 67 and 60 percent, respectively. In 2010, they were 85 and 79 percent. These rapid improvements were the result of Dr. Hossain’s innovative approach to running an immunization program. He instituted a process of registering pregnant women with their expected date of delivery, location, and phone number, so vaccinators knew when children were born, where they were, and an easy way to contact their mothers. He provided annual schedules for vaccine sessions to make vaccinators more accountable to the community and had the vaccinators put their phone numbers on the children’s immunization cards, so parents with young children could get in touch with a health worker. These may seem like small innovations, but they show how looking at old problems in new ways can make a profound difference. Improvements like these are spreading to other locations because of the commitment and creativity of Dr. Hossain and many others like him. Delivering lifesaving vaccines takes the dedication of many well-known players like GAVI, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF; government officials; and perhaps most importantly hundreds of thousands of heroes on the frontline like Dr. Hossain.
What I love about this story is the simplicity, almost banality, of the innovation. It’s just better record keeping and follow up. Nothing that a Patent Office would recognize as an innovation. But it is considered worthy of a Gates Foundation Prize. And it involves, centrally the mobile. Not a telecenter, not a subsidized device, but the standard mobile connection that today one can assume among the poor.