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Democracy in Development: Cell Phones, the Internet, and Development in Africa

by Isobel Coleman
September 24, 2012

A delegate checks a Blackberry handset at an exhibition stand during the West & Central Africa Com conference in Nigeria's capital Abuja on June 18, 2009 (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters). A delegate checks a Blackberry handset at an exhibition stand during the West & Central Africa Com conference in Nigeria's capital Abuja on June 18, 2009 (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters).


Last week on my blog, I wrote about the potential of internet-enabled cell phones to take existing mobile innovation in Africa even further. As I argue:

Increased internet connectivity could make mobile phones into better learning platforms for students; it could give doctors in rural areas more robust information with which to make diagnoses, give treatment, and track patients.

You can read the full post here.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Sean Runnels, M.D.

    West Africa may be the most hostile environment for any organization to operate in the world. Mining companies and oil companies have little staying power here, one can only imagine how long medical distribution networks last. When I look around and see the organizations that are able to function here, I see cell phones, Coke, and bottled water. Two things come to mind. How can we piggy back medical needs on those distribution networks, and what are the features that make these networks sustainable. Technology is already here to make smart phones in to Pulse Oximeters and Ultrasounds. Fancy stuff. On a simpler note, the ability to screen in a remote area and then have patients come into Conakary, on demand, when we have the appropriate specialist available, is revolutionary. Remeber that coming so far is a tremendous investment in time and resources for patines and their families. I am sure that the risk of making a long and expensive journey without the assurance that they could be seen on arrival has been a barrier to seeking specialty care here in Guinea. Now we can accept the patient after looking a a photo of their lump, bump. burn contracture or malformation, We can now call the patient and reschedule before they begin their journy in. We take this for granted in the west, but these are are major problems to consider for families of extremely limmited resources here.
    As to the point of what makes sustainable distribution networks here in Africa, tow things come to mind. profit, and demand. For medicine, the demand is here, however, as most care and equipment here is provied via NGO’s for free, or by an underfunded disfunctional public sector, there is little or no drive to set up sustainable medical distribution networks. The key may be a shift from seeing the extreemly poor as customers not charity. Creating the expectation of free care in developing nations may be counter productive as it becomes very difficult to get the capital investment needed to set up the structure and networks needed for sustainable medical systems.

  • Posted by Isobel Coleman

    Developing markets is critical. One example is the organization Kickstart, which I’ve written about before ( The organization’s goal is not to give their technology away to people who won’t use it but have people pay so they will truly deploy technology and begin to develop a market. Likewise true with medicine.

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