In a keynote address at the mHealth Summit, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates proposed a plan to use cell phones to register births with the aim of increasing vaccination rates and decreasing population growth in the developing world.
The Redmond, Wash.-based company’s cofounder and chairman envisioned collecting biometric information on babies via handsets and transmitting the data to a central health registry, which could be used to remind parents about vaccinations. GPS data from the phone could also help guide medical personnel to remote locations to administer vaccines.
Gates imagined trialing the program in areas with low vaccination rates like Nigeria or northern India.
“If you could register every birth on a cell phone—get fingerprints, get a location—then you could [create] systems to make sure the immunizations happen,” said Gates. “As you save children under 5, that is the thing that reduces population growth. That sounds paradoxical. The fact is that within a decade of improving health outcomes, parents decide to have less children.”
Gate’s plan didn’t address the privacy implications of a birth database, which could be more or less substantial depending on how the information was structured.
According to Gates, infant vaccination is largely responsible for lowering the global mortality rate in children under five from 20 million deaths in 1960 to 8.5 million annual deaths today. He said that decreased infant mortality has been shown to reduce overall birthrates.
Even in the developed world, using mobile technology to improve health care could reap tremendous benefits. Two years ago, a study found that pairing health monitoring technologies with smartphones in the U.S. could lead to both improved care and a savings of $197 billion over 25 years.
Unfortunately, phones can’t fight the ignorance that leads some Americans to leave their children unvaccinated. Despite the fact that a high-profile study linking vaccines to autism has been shown to be completely fraudulent, parental fears, fanned by celebrity endorsements, have left too many children unprotected.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given billions of dollars to charitable causes, making the couple the most generous philanthropists in America.