A UN agency for children has bagged a top US award for adapting basic cell phone technology to monitor the health of children in danger of malnutrition. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) shares first prize in the United States Development Agency's innovation competition, known as the "Development 2.0 Challenge," for adapting basic cell phones to monitor the health of children in danger of malnutrition. The "RapidSMS" text messaging system, developed by graduate students from Columbia University, which shared in the prize, was first used in Ethiopia to monitor food supplies and will now be used to map and track child malnutrition trends in Malawi more accurately and in real time, enabling quick responses to unfolding food and nutritional crises. "This is a perfect example of UNICEF's vision of bringing together experts from around the world and from diverse fields such as academia, private sector and civil society," Sharad Sapra, Director of UNICEF's Division of Communication, said.
The initial phases of the Malawi project are expected to run from January to May of 2009. However, the collaborative and open source philosophy it is based on means that anyone can take, use and adapt RapidSMS for their purposes, UNICEF stressed.
"The aim is to leverage this global knowledge and create solutions which help achieve lasting benefits for children," Sapra said.