Jackie Chang, Head of Mobile Inclusion Partnerships for Facebook during a Brainstorm Health panel in 2017
Stuart Isett Photograph by Stuart Isett/Fortu
By Sy Mukherjee
May 3, 2017

Executives from Google and Facebook and a slew of world health leaders say there’s a pretty big tech disparity that’s preventing children in the world’s poorest countries from getting world class health care: a lack of access to broadband and online networks.

That was one of the main topics explored during a Wednesday breakfast panel at Fortune‘s second annual Brainstorm Health‘s conference in San Diego. Last year, world leaders attending the FORTUNE + TIME Global Forum in Rome and Vatican City pledged to help bring health care to 100 million children over the next several years; at Wednesday’s plenary session, several of the key players in that effort convened to discuss just how to make the goal a reality.

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Attendees included: Last Mile Health CEO Dr. Raj Panjabi, winner of the $1 million 2017 TED Prize for his nonprofit’s work in training community health workers in Liberia; Partners in Health CEO Dr. Gary Gottlieb; Jeffrey Walker, Vice Chair of the United Nations Secretary General’s Envoy for Health; Cigna Medical Director for Behavioral Health Dr. Stuart Lustig; as well as Facebook Head of Mobile Inclusion Partnerships Jackie Chang and Google Senior Product Manager Prem Ramaswami.

This stacked collection of health experts and tech leaders broached everything from how a lack of proper financing models to turnover in Health Ministry departments in African nations and other emerging markets makes it difficult to treat the world’s children. But one potential solution could be new broadband networks that make it far easier to train doctors in remote regions.

“We need to figure out how to make connectivity reliable,” said the United Nation’s Walker. “We need a real focus on modernizing education of these community health workers, and we can do this by using a digital platform,” added Panjabi, noting that this is one area where tech actually helps create new jobs—rather than take them away—by taking medical education to the online realm.

Google’s Ramaswami believes health care information must also become more easily decipherable online in order to “empower 200 million parents” to know what do for their sick children.

Chang provided a concrete example of how online health-focused efforts can make a big difference: the Zika epidemic in Brazil. Facebook collaborated with UNICEF to target men and teach them some ways to help prevent Zika infection (which can be spread through unprotected sex). “82% exposed to our awareness campaign planned to take action,” she said.

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