Ministry of Health and mobile network operators: Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees collaborate to offer free access to essential health information and digital health services
The Sponsored Data partnership between the Ministry of Health and mobile network operators Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees means Kiwis won’t incur mobile data charges when they access essential Covid-19 information, health information and resources, and eligible online health services.
The number of sponsored websites will increase over time so New Zealanders can access even more key health information and services without mobile data charges.
In the first instance, anyone using the mobile networks of the country’s largest telco providers can now access 11 key health websites and two GP portals free of data charges:
All mobile data charges for these websites will be charged back to the Ministry until June 2021, with six monthly reviews to confirm extensions to the initiative.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield says this ensures people who use pre-paid mobiles can continue to access important health, mental health and wellbeing information through their mobile if they run out of data.
“During lockdown, health providers and organisations that provide mental health services quickly moved to connect with their communities online. This is likely to continue to be a popular option for many, especially young people and those who live in remote locations.”
“However, the Ministry of Health has received clear feedback from health providers around the country that the cost of mobile data can be a barrier to people accessing key health and wellbeing information or services.
“The Sponsored Data partnership is helping remove this barrier and will increase the number of Kiwis who can access virtual health services easily instead of visiting the doctor or nurse in person, where there may be a risk of being exposed to Covid-19 or another infectious illness.
“Having free access to online health and wellbeing information, services and tools where and when it suits people is key to ensuring fair access for all New Zealanders,” Dr Bloomfield says.
Spark CEO Jolie Hodson says: “Free online access to reliable Covid-19 information, GP portals and mental health and wellbeing support has never been more important than it is now. This is especially true for our most vulnerable New Zealanders, where the cost of data may be a barrier to access. We are really pleased to support this great initiative across both our Spark and Skinny brands, as part of our broader work to lift digital equity in New Zealand.”
“While we have now been able to move from higher Covid-19 alert levels down to level one, many New Zealanders will still be keen to keep an eye on the virus threat and health information services that are available. Being able to access this information via mobile data, whether on-the-go or at home, is important to helping our communities remain safe and healthy. We are proud to be supporting the Ministry of Health with this initiative,” says Vodafone CEO Jason Paris.
“The pandemic has demonstrated how important it is to be able to connect and access important health information. Keeping connected has also been an essential part of staying safe and well. We are proud to support this initiative that will provide long term benefits beyond Covid-19 in making health and wellbeing information freely available to those who need it,” says 2degrees CEO Mark Aue.
All content hosted on a Sponsored Data website is now free to access from mobile devices connected to the Spark, Skinny, Vodafone or 2Degrees networks. However, usual data charge rates will apply to any externally hosted content such as YouTube videos. All Sponsored Data websites have worked to minimise the amount of externally hosted content and to make it clear when clicking a link will take the user to another website.
Over the last year, the mobile network operators worked closely with the Ministry of Health to pilot Sponsored Data as a joint initiative with WellSouth and the Health Promotion Agency.
A key finding which helped develop a business case for Sponsored Data on a national scale, was that many lower socioeconomic families use pre-paid mobiles and regularly run out of data, and that providing free access to digital health services provides these New Zealanders with significant benefits.