The charity has partnered with British chipmaker ARM and design firm Frog to launch the ‘Wearables for Good’ challenge. It is asking designers to come up with ideas for cheap, low-power gadgets that can save lives.
Unicef wants a way to monitor and measure vital signs and other biological stats, keep track of environmental conditions, and push out alerts.
That doesn’t just mean fitness bands or the Apple Watch, but smart headwear or contact lenses that use sensors to pick up key medical information.
Devices that can track patients without being worn will also be considered.
Given wearables have yet to really take off, with early adopters often ditching their devices once the battery runs out, the category might seem like a strange choice.
Unicef’s reasoning is that few people could have predicted the proliferation of mobile in emerging economies just five years ago.
Erica Kochi, co-lead of Unicef’s innovation arm, said: "We need to innovate with social purpose in order to overcome the barriers of time, distance and lack of information that prevent millions of children from surviving and realising their potential.
"By working together with ARM we improve our ability to develop new technologies that impact children and help them grow up healthy, educated and able to positively contribute to their families, communities and wider economies."
Unlike commercially developed wearables, designers entering the challenge will have a number of limitations.
Wearables designed for medical use abroad will need to be cheap, low-power, durable and easily scaled.
Designers will also need to account for the wearer’s potential financial constraints, lack of access to basic facilities and social limitations.
There will be two winners selected from the design challenge, who will receive $15,000 funding and support from ARM and Frog.