Technology for global health: some connections

by Anjali Sastry on December 4, 2008

Only one more day is left for you to submit, but check out this $10K idea competition focusing on mobile technology. Netsquared is hosting this for USAID. From USAID’s announcement:

Through the Development 2.0 Challenge, USAID is opening up to inventive ideas. The Challenge seeks to tap non-traditional sources, such as students, budding entrepreneurs, and other innovators to explore the potential of mobile technology applications. USAID challenges innovators everywhere to apply an innovative mobile technology solution for maximum development reach and impact in areas such as health, banking, education, agricultural trade, or other pressing development issues.

It’s late, but perhaps not too late? If you find things like this of interest, become a regular reader of a site like nextbillion.net where there’s wide coverage of such opportunities and other news. Did I mention that we got a shout-out from their staff writer, Nitin Rao? He’ll be coming to Sloan next year, so there are many connections….  On that site I also learned that dimagi, one of my own personal favorite technology companies innovating in global health, was a finalist this week for a $1 million prize. I’m sure it’s a great feeling to get so close to winning, but I can’t help wishing they’d won….

Jon Payne, who visited class on Monday (and, natch, blogs), sent along an interesting paper (technically, an innovation note) on mobile technology for global health from the Science and Technology Division of the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank). Check out Mobile Health: The potential of mobile telephony to bring healthcare to the majority.  Jon notes that there are many ideas in here, including surveillance, notifications, and even health education, so it’s a great general introduction. For the student teams working in this area, he also offered these two links on cell phone payment systems: the best known such company in South Africa is WIZZIT; and from the SWAT blog, a good article on mobile payment systems in Africa.

Finally, for a radically different way to think about technology, take a look at a huge conference under way right now: The Youth Movements How-To Hub “brings together youth leaders from around the world to learn, share & discuss how to change the world by building powerful grassroots movements.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

E. Spero December 6, 2008 at 7:51 pm

Mobile phone technology has changed the way that people communicate, regardless of where in the world and which side of “development” they are a part of. However, plan structures and client bases may differ significantly by region. In parts of Europe text-messaging is a preferred method of communication over voice and considered more polite. This most-likely evolved from text plans being more affordable in comparison to voice. In the US many plans offer unlimited texts as an additional service. Without the service, fees can add up quickly. This often causes two user groups to develop – those with unlimited plans engaging in an SMS-heavy communication style and those avoiding it (or at least until contact with enough users from the unlimited group make adding the plan a necessary part of social life).
Are users in Latin America comparable to those in Africa? The article mentions that web-enabled type data transfer applications are not available for users on pre-paid plans. However SMS based question/answer services could work on already existing technology. There is great discussion about how the addition of mobile phones in areas of high poverty have been surprisingly successful. I am curious about how stable this market really is. Is it possible to make useful applications on existing technology and infrastructures? Would the promise of more sophisticated applications (along with other mobile products) tempt users into dangerous spending counteracting the potential benefits of this technology? Despite the potential benefits of a text messaging plan and data/web plan, I know that my income level in the US doesn’t support this kind of communication lifestyle.
I will watch this issue develop with both hope and skepticism.

There is a group at MIT working on these issues with far more expertise than this reader – here is an announcement for their upcoming event 12/10/08.

Quoted from email from MIT Nextlab:

On Wednesday, December 10th, you’re invited to see how MIT students, together with 7 partner organizations across the developing world, are designing and deploying new ways of using mobile technologies to address some of the most pressing problems of international development.

Starting at 11:30am at the lower atrium of the Media Lab (E15), we’ll be having poster sessions, live demos, project presentations and free food to share with you the amazing work done by NextLab students during the semester to invent a better future in developing countries.

The general schedule is:

11:30-12:45 pm: First poster session (box lunch and refreshments will be served)

12:45-2:45 pm: Project Presentations for our 7 project teams

2:45-3:45 pm: Second poster session (refreshments will be served)

Details at: http://nextlab.mit.edu/2008event/

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