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Telecommunications Industry Could Change the World This September

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Broadband and airtime. We all use it. We have all become dependent on it and it is hard to imagine life without being able to connect with anyone at a moment's notice. Access to the web and speedily sending a text message or image across the world in a millisecond means we live in some of history's most exciting and fast moving days.

The world is as connected as ever. In fact, this connectivity is a big reason why gains have recently been made against polio, which is now nearly eradicated thanks to efficient global monitoring and surveillance systems that has seen millions of children vaccinated in the farthest corners of the earth.

The partnerships of citizens, NGOs, governments of developing countries, governments of OECD countries, and the private sector demonstrates that the world is coming together in such an admirable way to combat human suffering. We are now at a unique point in time where we can further alleviate the burden of extreme poverty, defined as the 1.2 billion people living on less than US$1.25 a day. Experts now suggest that a world without extreme poverty could be a reality as early as 2030, provided the will and resources are there. And it's becoming more apparent that this could happen with the ongoing effort and renewed focus of the world's leaders in innovation and technology.

Back in 2010, the United Nations Broadband Commission -- compiling the telecommunications industry's top leaders and innovators, senior policymakers, government representatives, international agencies and academics - united with the common understanding that broadband access in every country needed to be a priority on the international agenda. The various members of the Commission saw that they collectively had the power to greatly accelerate achieving the targets of the Millennium Development Goals, which aim to dramatically reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty.

Since then, a number of pilot projects have proved just how important a role the Commission has in improving the day to day lives of people living in poor communities.

For instance, a project across sub-Saharan Africa monitored the health of 100,000 children using text messages that were sent from Community Health Workers (CHWs), as well as provided broadband access to more than 500,000 people in ten countries in Africa. This was because of a unique partnership by SonyEricsson with Columbia University's Millennium Villages Project.

The success of such projects presents us with the opportunity to expand on programs like these, which is why we at the Global Poverty Project are calling on the world's greatest innovators, namely the CEOs of Ericsson, Digicel, Orange, Airtel and MTN Group, along with the UN Broadband Commission, to help scale up this effort. We are asking them to help supply cheaper data and smartphones specifically to registered CHWs across sub-Saharan Africa. This means that CHWs who are on the ground in the most remote areas of countries such as Senegal and Malawi, can communicate more efficiently to their respective national health system and allow for real-time disease surveillance, child and maternal health monitoring, mobile training, supply chain management and capture vital events.

Now is the perfect time to direct our energy toward this. The Governments of countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, Rwanda, Senegal and Tanzania have set up the infrastructure. We've invited organizations like GAVI and the Global Fund - two of the world's largest public health financing agencies - to come together at this year's Global Citizen Festival and support the One Million Community Health Worker Campaign to reach the goal of a million CHWs deployed across Africa by 2015. But, for the program to be successful we need the increased and ongoing support of companies like Ericsson, Digicel, Orange, Airtel and MTN Group.

Our world seems to be transforming itself around us daily. But let's not forget that not everyone has access to the life-changing communications systems that we have become so dependent upon. Providing these communities with simple resources like cheaper data and smart-phones, will mean that not as many children die for lack of a thirty cent vaccination nor will mothers face the threat of death during childbirth when all that was needed was for someone to contact a maternal health expert who could provide the most basic of interventions.

We have made significant progress in technology and it is our hope that the Broadband Commission and leaders of telecommunications companies really speed things up to make significant progress in the eradication of extreme poverty by providing the most basic of resources to the world's most disadvantaged people.

HUGH EVANS is CEO of the Global Poverty Project and co-founder of the Global Citizen Festival. For more information visit www.globalcitizen.org.