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GLOBAL – Near Field Communication, or NFC technology, is a set of wireless technologies that can help you gain access to a building or buy a snack at a vending machine, but it’s now also helping emerging nations, such as Haiti, fight the spread of cholera in its drinking water in the hope of saving millions of lives each year. Read on to find out how mobile phone technology is helping.

There are many things we all take for advantage, such as turning on the TV, browsing the Internet or even turning on the tap to get the most essential commodity – clean drinking water. But there are parts of the world where this basic need isn’t being met and drinking a glass of water could kill you.

Waterborne diseases, such as cholera which causes severe diarrhoea, kill nearly 1.8 million people every year and about 6,000 children under the age of 5 each day. While this is an ongoing challenge that can’t be overcome overnight, Nokia Research Center, Palo Alto, is giving a helping hand to some of the people who are faced with this challenge. The recent cholera outbreak in Haiti killed one of the country’s citizens every 30 minutes during the first two months of the outbreak. Providing the tools to help provide fresh water is urgent.

The main solution is to clean the water that people are drinking and to kill the disease before it comes in contact with people. A non-profit organisation based in Haiti named Deep Springs International (DSI) has spearheaded a program which adapts the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Safe Water System, which consists of a chlorine solution and a modified 5-gallon bucket to treat and store water.

Currently, 35,000 households have been given these modified buckets which are fitted with a RFID chip that holds information about the contents of the bucket. During visits from a community-based health worker who uses an NFC-equipped Nokia 6212, they activate the RFID chip in the water bucket just by holding the phone close to it to acknowledge a visit was made and measure the levels of chlorine in the water and key it in. Then they answer an on-device questionnaire and transmit the data back to the DSI headquarters, via SMS. Previously, this task was done using paper forms and errors were easily made; the on-site process was time-consuming and then the reports would take an even longer time to reach the headquarters. Now, with use of this technology, they are able to transmit data immediately and accurately resulting in water being treated effectively and quickly.

There are currently 240 health workers serving 35,000 households with only 40 Nokia 6212s. Even with this limited number of devices, they have brouhgt the level of water diseases down, helping the people who really need it. With a new round of funding from Nokia, the researchers are continuing to improve the mobile phone-based system, expanding the deployment by another 100 phones and developing the system further. DSI aims to staff 200 phone-equipped health workers, serving 50,000 households in 2011.

There’s more on this story in Scientific American.