The organisations will work together with operators to spread the reach of vital health information, particularly to those without access to the internet

In 2020 the world is more connected than ever and as a result it is easy to forget that a huge number of people remain unconnected to the internet. The concept of the ‘digital divide’ has never been more relevant than now, when a lack of internet connectivity could be a matter of life and death, restricting the amount of information available to people regarding the deadly coronavirus.
However, the internet is not the only way that people can connect in the modern world. Mobile phone penetration is much, much higher in low-income countries than internet access, making SMS the perfect vector for quickly disseminating information.
This is the strategy now being endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). Supported by UNICEF, these organisations have announced a plan to work with operators around the world to send vital COVID-19-related health messages to people who would otherwise have little access to this advice.
The plan is to begin with the Asia-Pacific region before expanding to a worldwide rollout. 
In their statement published yesterday announcing the scheme, the WHO and ITU also talked about “leveraging frontier technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data to diagnose, contain and predict outbreaks better and faster”. Such technologies are, of course, already favourites of major telcos, meaning there may be more collaboration on the cards in the near future.
These organisations would not be the first to make use of mobile data to help combat the pandemic. Indeed, the EU has already pushed for operators to share anonymised mobile data, in order to help track and predict the spread of disease.
How is the coronavirus affecting the use of mobile data by operators? Find out from industry-leading experts at this year’s Total Telecom Congress
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