Home Educational How cell phones are literally saving lives in the developing world

How cell phones are literally saving lives in the developing world


In our everyday lives we view the cell phone as a device for communicating with others, digesting information and entertaining ourselves. We feel as if we cannot live without it, but if you were really put to the test life without a mobile phone would go on just as it did during the last century.

However, for the developing world the situation isn’t as simple as lives in some instances literally depend on cell phones. There are a number of different uses that cell phones execute, which tilt the odds of success when there is a life or death situation on the line.

Medic Mobile

The most famous instance of how Medic Mobile helped saves lives was during the Haiti earthquake, when 80,000 incoming text to the 4636 number helped map out a database and presented a way of mapping out the rescue efforts.

The program provides medical aid for 4.5 million people across 11 countries. The setup is by creating networks via $10 Java-run mobile phones that allows doctors to communicate with each other in the hope of healing a patient, and also patients can communicate with doctors to receive help.

The use of SMS messages allows for communication in areas where there is a lack of internet, or where the majority of the population cannot afford access to the internet. Medic Mobile is still in its infancy, and hopes to improve the quality and scope of the efforts in the years to come.

Mobile Diagnostics

Aydogan Ozcan a professor at UCLA has designed cell phones that have in-built features to allow for diagnostic duties to be handled. This includes a lightweight microscope that can carry out the analysis of water, blood and bodily fluids.

For doctors that don’t have access to portable equipment this is a relatively cheap yet effective solution capable of figuring out what might be wrong with an individual. Especially in remote areas of a third world country having access to such a portable diagnostic tool could save the life of an individual.

The size of the microscope on these cell phones is small in size due to a lens-free approach. Officially the technology is called Lensless Ultra-wide-field Cell Monitoring Array, or LUCAS for short.

The diagnosis is immediate as no samples need to be sent to a centralized lab for a diagnosis. The microscope unit is an add-on that can be combined with almost any mobile phone that has a decent camera. You don’t need to have the latest iPhone or Samsung mobile phone either, just an entry level camera-phone.

Ozcan’s research is currently backed by the National Science Foundation and also the U.S. Office of Naval Research. However, the approach for these microscopes currently is not to bring them to mass market, but instead to perfect the technology. Eventually once the product reaches the desired potential it’s estimated that each unit will cost $10-15. An affordable price point to bring it the masses in the developing world.

Mobile Midwife Program

Help and support for a soon to be mother and then during her first year after pregnancy is a must. The Mobile Midwife Program backed by The Grameen Foundation sends regular texts to provide information for the mother in her native tongue.

The basic service is free, but there is also a paid add-on scheme that costs an equivalent of 15 cents in Nigeria for example. There is a focus on the nutrition regarding both the mother and newborn. This program is currently being rolled out to an increasing number of countries to provide more support.

While information in the developed world is literally in the palm of a person’s hand via the smartphone, in the developing world that is not always the case. Mobile based internet is not a luxury afforded to everyone, and education is not yet as good as it should be. Therefore, it’s imperative that support is given to mothers in terms of the right information so they can raise their child in the healthiest way possible.


These 3 examples of how mobile phones are impacting lives in a positive way for the developing population across the world are just the tip of the iceberg. As technology is improving innovators are finding new ways of ensuring that help is given to those in need.

One of the key challenges is figuring out how the technology can be manufactured in an affordable way. To provide help at scale it’s not feasible to have each mobile phone cost hundreds of dollars.  Improvements in technology drives the cost down of certain components on a yearly basis, which in turn reduces the cost burden of those seeking to save lives in the developing.