Bill Gates keynotes mHealth Summit, focuses on saving children

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, has thrown himself into improving healthcare worldwide. At the mHealth Summit in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, he spoke of how mobile phones could potentially save millions of children's lives in developing countries.

Over the past eight years, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation have donated $300 million to Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH). According to Scott Campbell, the CEO of the FNIH, Gates "has truly impacted global health."

The mHealth Summit, organized by the FNIH in partnership with the mHealth Alliance and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), held Nov. 8-10 in Washington, D.C., and has drawn more than 2,000 professionals from the U.S and 30 countries to network and hear from experts on mobile health and policy.

As keynote luncheon speaker on Tuesday, Gates focused on vaccines for children under age five as one of most significant health efforts that could improve health and quality of life worldwide. This is an effort championed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Cell phones have a huge potential in helping to make sure children get vaccinated, he said. Cell phones could be used to register births and then used to track children and make sure they get the lifesaving vaccines they need. 

As Gates sees it, using cell phones to remind patients has huge potential – including reminding mothers of prenatal care, keeping patients on their regimens of life-saving medication, and helping vaccinate children.

The Gates Foundation is currently funding scientists worldwide to research mobile phone applications for improving health. "Diagnosis of malaria and TB will likely be the first ones you can assign a number to and say without this mobile phone app these people would have died," Gates said. "In the diagnostics areas we're seeing some very good stuff come through."

Gates was hopeful. The world as a whole is producing more scientists, especially in what he called middle-income nations. "People underestimate the amount of innovation that is going on," he said.

According to Gates, saving children's lives has a direct link to improved standard of living across the board. Most population growth is in urban slums, he said, and where there is more than a 3 percent population growth, every facet of life is a problem. But within a decade of improving children's health, parents decide to have fewer children, thus dramatically improving living standards.

"No matter what problem you care about – environment, school, nutrition, unrest – the key thing in those problems is that at a 3 percent population growth rate, there will be no overcoming," said Gates. "There will be no trees, animals, jobs, schools. Nobody can handle that type of situation. So the best thing we can do is avoid those deaths."