Change is often said to be the only constant in life and COVID-19 is doing all it can to prove this to the world. What has not changed is the need for governments and development organizations in the global development community to reach the citizens they serve both nationally and internationally. At the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), we are continually developing solutions that can help those around the world who are trying to respond to the needs of citizens amid the pandemic.
When combined with other traditional datasets, MNO data can be analyzed and used to support development policymaking – including emergency response efforts around COVID-19. DIAL has developed this introductory brief as the first in a series of materials on using mobile network operator (MNO) data. Our aim is to provide governments and intermediaries with openly licensed, editable resources on:
(1) the opportunity of mobile network operator data;
(2) how to get started with using mobile data;
(3) the various perspectives of the groups/ stakeholders involved; and
(4) how to bridge the demand side (NGOs, governments, and multilateral organizations) and the supply side (MNOs and aggregators) of this work.
These initial resources are tailored towards a country’s COVID-19 response, though they can also be customized and used to support other long-term public health and development goals. Last year, DIAL partnered with Cooper/Smith, the Malawi Ministry of Health, and mobile network operators in order to improve access to healthcare in Malawi. Through this partnership, we were able to analyze movement patterns in Malawi and map those patterns with existing health clinic locations across the country. This analysis helped us to understand which areas of the country needed additional health facilities. By utilizing MNO data safely and securely, the Malawi Ministry of Health now has a plan to better serve its citizens by building 900 new health facilities across the country – moving closer to its goal that the vast majority of people are within a 5-kilometer radius of health facility by 2025.
DIAL resources can also help governments deliver simple and affordable mobile public health messages for COVID-19. Mobile public health messages can help combat misinformation about the symptoms, transmission, and prevention of the virus. For example, Kenya’s Health Ministry has partnered with Safaricom and Airtel to send free text messages with information on COVID-19. DIAL’s existing guidance on mobile capability, information about mobile aggregators, and our online catalog of mobile operators and aggregators are helpful tools to get started.
Half of the world lacks access to essential health services. COVID-19 has highlighted this stark reality. But the truth is that, even before the pandemic, people around the world were dying because they lack access to basic resources. Both in the immediate response to this pandemic and as we move towards building more resilient digital systems, lives can be saved if we mobilize around using existing technology more efficiently to get information and lifesaving resources to citizens quickly.