Dhaka Saturday February 02, 2013
Mobile services: Its impact on health and development sectors in Bangladesh
Dr. Salehuddin Ahmed, Managing Editor, The Daily Star
I think affordability is an important issue here. Another important issue is training -- to access certain mobile services, there is a need to train our people in mobile technology.
Mubin Khan, Managing Director, EATL
According to a research, within 2014, financial value of mobile applications will be more than 30 billion in the global market.
I will talk about five options of mobile services. One is "voice call." In the reality of our rural areas, many people cannot read English, even Bengali. "Voice call" is like a normal mobile call, one has to just receive the call and hear pre-recorded messages. This is very simple but effective. It is also more cost effective than SMS.
Another option is "mobile app store" that was first introduced in Bangladesh by us. We have Bengali sites in our app store, where one can find solutions to problems in our every day life through their mobiles.
The next option is "call & services." One can get primary services from a remote area through dialing a specific number of a call centre. With the location-tracking service we can track down on whether our root level workers are attending their jobs sincerely.
Lastly, through mobile technology we can really fulfill the vision of "digital Bangladesh." We can provide important government services using mobile technology to the grass root people.
Dr. Nizam Ahmed, CEO, EATL
The number of mobile subscribers in Bangladesh is approximately 9.8 crore (July, 2012). 65% people have mobile, 97% households have at least one mobile set but only 7% people have access to computers and 5% people have access to internet.
The Bangladesh government has just launched 3G. Therefore, more people will have internet access in their mobile over the next few years. The main thing here is the government's commitment towards "Digital Bangladesh" -- for example, Jessore is declared the first digital district, there are policy support programmes and operations.
Now, we should take it to the next level. It is interesting to know that 80% Bangladeshi farmers are using mobile phones to gather information on markets and contact buyers; 50% farmers manage to sell their goods directly; communicating via mobile phone.
Usage of mobile has increased in health, education, disaster and other sectors. Most subscribers only use their handsets to call others; the use of SMS is very low. We have English keypad and our messages are 'Banglish,' which is not understandable.
Our SMS system should be Bengali. Bangladesh is the first Asian countries to launch mobile service in 1989.We have been experiencing ever-fastest growth of mobile communication and its revenue in Asia since 1993. Now, we need to create and expand the opportunities and options with mobile phone for health, development and business sectors.
Our available options are voice, text, location tracking, applications, data transfer service and other sorts of communication. These all can be available within a mobile. If the government supports this policy, operators will decrease the cost and development agencies will use this technology and we will certainly achieve our MDGs by 2015.
Advocate Shahara Khatun MP, Minister, Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications
Our prime minister has a vision of a digital Bangladesh and we have progressed a long way to digitalise this country. The "Voice Call" system will be launched by a recorded voice of our prime minister that will provide messages on community health services.
In our government's term, we have turned the telecommunication sector to a thrust sector in order to attract international investment. We have taken several epoch-making steps to reach to the doorsteps of the grass root people. Most recommendable are the 3G service, net-book connection, WiMax, Doel laptop, Bangabandhu Satellite, International Gate Way license delivery and so on.
The government has taken steps to establish optical fibre lines to the Union Parishad level. Within four years, we have increased the tele-density from 30% to 64%, internet density from 3% to 27%.
Today, 95% area and 100% people are under tele-network. We have increased the band with from 7 gbps to 200 gbps, and reduced the charge from 27,000 taka to 8,000 taka. To ensure e-service at the Union Parishad level, we have established Information Service Centres in 4501 unions.
We have also launched mobile banking, electronic money order, tele-medicine system, multimedia classroom, income tax return payment, online admission system, e-ticketing and so on.
Mostofa Faruk Mohammad MP, Minister, Ministry of Information and Communication Technology
Our present government has been doing a lot to fulfill its commitment towards "Digital Bangladesh." In Jessore, the first digitalised district, we have introduced e-attendance registrar to increase accountability of government officers. We are seriously working towards an effective e-governance.
It is essential to utilise ICT in the development and business sectors; particularly mobile options and its uses. Mobile use in health and education sector is also very important, and the government is working hard to facilitate these usages.
Sunil Kanti Bose, Chairman, BTRC
Bandwidth speed is very important. And here the question of affordability creeps in. We have reduced the cost to 8,000 take from 27,000 and the present government is committed to reducing it further to 3,000 taka. Reduction of tax on the equipments will increase the affordability as well, but the government needs revenue for the overall maintenance. And we must also note that the rural people are not able to afford digital education.
The government has, however, created social obligation fund within BTRC for this purpose. 1% of total revenue goes to this fund regularly.
The development of appropriate content is also vital. Content developer is one of the groups who do not get their proper share. We have also made a committee to look after this and we are encouraging the use of mobile options and its services in all sectors for its benefits without having any negative impact. Collaboration of public and private sectors will enhance the use of mobile services for its high impact and effectiveness in development.
Dr. Makduma Nargis, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
We are using mobile in our referencing system as well. If any patient needs treatment at a higher level then we immediately contact the next tier, send the patient and inform the doctor about the patient's status. In case of complications, our community health providers take advice from senior colleagues and experts through mobile phones.
We have installed software in six community clinics on a pilot basis, to collect information about the patient's data, so that we can better understand their needs and provide feedbacks. We are also using mobile tracking services to ensure that our health providers do perform their duties sincerely.
Soon we will be transmitting mobile voice calls by the honourable prime minister for community clinic services for mothers and children.
Md. Abdul Karim , Former Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister's office
We have to increase the reach of optical fiber line to make internet and mobile applications effective. There is a network coordination committee, who look after this issue. Power Greed Company Bangladesh (PGCB) offered a vacant fiber line to BTCL. This opportunity should be taken as early as possible and Band with price should be reduced further.
We need an institutional mechanism to coordinate effective internet use in our different sectors.
Print media and electronic media can play a vital role to popularise mobile applications.
Iqbal Khan Chowdhury, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Education
The government provides stipend to more than 4.8 million students. If we use mobile technology to identify students and ensure their reception, then existing malaises in stipend will wither away.
Nilufar Ahmed, DG, Prime Minister's Office
I do not think our operators already have capacity to launch 4G services because Teletalk has suffered problems in their launches, even, 3G services. Therefore, phase by phase approach will be useful for Bangladesh.
Prof A.K. Azad, ADG, Directorare General of Health Services
Globally any kind of communication through wireless technology is defined as m-health. Recently in Switzerland at a seminar upon m-health, they submitted a report where they compared the development of Bangladesh in this sector with a bullet train. One example is that, we established a signboard with a mobile number at the 800 government hospitals; encouraging mass people to send their complaints as text messages about the hospital. We call back to the sender's number and deal with those complaints officially.
Besides, we are registering the name of pregnant women and giving them a reminder for regular health check-ups. There are many limitations of our government. We need to combine our non-governmental efforts to overcome these.
SM Altaf Mahmud, banglanews24.com
Dr. Md. Abdul Waheed, Line Director, NASP, Directorate General of Health Services
We are also going to set up a call centre for HIV positive people to provide them regular messages in a confidential way. This is a great example of mobile utilisation and its impact.
Ishtiaq Hussain Chowdhury, Director, Corporate Affairs, Grameen Phone
We have different efforts and initiatives in digitalising health sector, but we lack coordination. We need a roadmap so that we can streamline our contributions.
Taimur Rahman, Director , Corporate Affairs, Grameenphone
Dr. Amjad Ali, Executive Director, HASAB
Md. Majibur Rahman, MD, Teletalk Bangladesh Ltd
We are working closely with Disaster Management Bureau. Now, we can cover our whole coastal area.
Dr. Md. Khalilur Rahman, Assistant Professor, Brac University
Registration of mobile number will be helpful to identify these differences.
Our young population is involved in the outsourcing sector. We should allow PayPal in Bangladesh to prevent our revenue loss. This sector has even greater potential than our garment sector. We should improvise the computer training given at our village level with training on graphic designing, mobile application development and outsourcing.
Finally, financial support from the government and nongovernmental sources is needed for various research projects on ICT.
Dr. S.M. Mustafizur Rahman, Programme Manager, NNS, DGHS, (MOH&FW)
Rajesh Palit, Assistant Professor, North South University