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Using cell phones to save lives

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Got an old cell phone you'd like to toss? Stanford medical student Nadim Mahmud would gratefully take it and put it to good use helping patients in the developing world.

Mahmud is the co-founder of an innovative project, FrontlineSMS: Medic, a nonprofit that uses cell phone and mobile technology to help community health workers in far-flung rural areas connect with village clinics. Instead of having workers travel 40 miles or more to bring in a patient or deliver a report, the community workers can simply send a text message with the needed information to the clinic. That helps save time and money on fuel and transport costs, increasing the ability of clinics to operate more efficiently and treat more patients, he says.

The group is working with eight different partner organizations in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Malawi, as well as with three partners in Bangladesh and one in India. Mahmud also said the organization has been discussing possible collaborations with health ministries in those regions with an eye to implementing the program nationwide.

But they need more cell phones first. The group will take phones in any condition, even if they no longer work. Through partnerships with wireless companies, the phones are refurbished for reuse in the developing world. Phones can be donated online at A shipping label will be supplied, with prepaid postage, so all you have to do is drop it in the mail.

Photo by D3 San Francisco

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