Daily Archives: 17 October 2012

Tracking Malaria in Kenya With Cell Phones

This article discusses the results of a Harvard School of Public Health study which was released this month regarding the use of mobile phones in tracking malaria in Kenya. In this study, researchers tracked the timing and location of calls and texts from 15 million mobile phones in Kenya between June 2008 – June 2009 and compared this data with data on malaria prevalence by region. By studying the movements of people relative to the movement of the disease, the researchers were able to identify primary sources of malaria, as well as those most at risk for infection. They concluded that the most significant amount of malaria transmission in Kenya is from travel from Lake Victoria to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.

This study differs from some of the others we read about and discussed this week in that it does not use mobile technology to directly communicate with mobile phone users. It is interesting to see how the prevalence of mobile phone use, particularly in Africa, can be utilized for development in ways other than direct communication. Because this was a large scale study, rather than using mobile phones for direct communication within a smaller population, these results might be immediately applicable to policy decisions. In addition they can be applied to mHealth efforts more similar to the ones we read about this week, which directly engage and interact with their target populations to help more effectively educate about, prevent, and treat malaria. One of the researches associated with the study suggested warning texts to travelers to and from malaria hot spots.

While this study has the potential to provide a great deal of insight regarding patterns of malaria transmission, the data is biased due to the digital divide, and population differences between those who have mobile phones and those who do not. Younger, wealthier, male, and urban populations are more likely to have mobile phones and therefore be reflected in this data, so initiatives and policy based off these results may disproportionately benefit those groups. These results, and this method of data collection, may be less effective particularly in terms of helping rural, female, lower-income, and less geographically mobile populations. Of course, any knowledge which can promote health, even disproportionately, should be considered and used to implement public health initiatives – however hopefully there will be other measures taken to make up for disparities in data, as not to further disadvantage already disadvantaged groups within the population.

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RCDF Uganda and Gender Inclusion Strategies

The Rural Communications Development Fund in Uganda (RCDF) is a type of Universal Access Fund that encourages the private sector to invest in ICTs for rural areas. The RCDF allows for basic communications services at a reasonable price and distance by all people (urban and rural) in Uganda. It is meant to 1) assist in areas where commercial services cannot be provided 2) provide basic universal access 3) promote competition among operators. The RCDF supports a multitude of projects that include but are not limited to: multi-purpose community telecenters, Internet cafes, public telephone booths, ICT training centers. However, from a gender perspective the RCDF may not seem as perfect. The Uganda Women Caucus on ICTs conducted an assessment of the RCDF and provided commentary on necessary alterations.  Because the RCDF is (for the most part) successful and can/could be used as an appropriate model to set up similar funds in other countries, it is important in my opinion to understand certain flaws that could be changed with heeding advice from the gender perspective assessment.

Here are a few things they recommended (considering the assessment concluded with a number of concerns), and that I thought important:

1) Women and marginalized populations in rural areas cannot all be reached by solely newspaper, which is the main form of spreading information regarding RCDF. Consider radio/Internet/mailing lists/posters/brochures/etc.

2) In relation to the RCDF policy, the policy makers should be more specific in what the policy intends to do for gender mainstreaming.

3) The selected agencies should be distributed in the 3 following categories: “educational institutions including female only ones; private sector for profit businesses including women owned enterprises and NGOs / CBOs including women’s organisations and agencies with gender objectives

4) Revise selection criteria to attract more women: this should encourage women to apply by “giving incentives to women proprietors, through positive discrimination, or indicating that women organizations should apply.”

In conclusion, this assessment was productive; however, I was interested to read on about other initiatives the UWCI had taken on. One project included a presentation on “Gendering the e-Government Policies in East Africa,” at the April 2006 Regional Stakeholders’ Consultative Workshops on Cyber Laws and e-Justice and on Information Security. I am curious to see if any changes followed with this assessment on the RCDF.

To read the assessment in full, please go to this link: RCDF_Uganda (PDF)


Profile: Nicholas Negroponte

In this week’s readings there is a focus on case studies relating to the One Laptop Per Child initiative, which promotes givingImage inexpensive and child friendly laptops to developing schools in order to promote introduction to ICT and increased educational opportunities. The project was founded by Nicholas Negroponte who is involved in many other pioneering technological achievements.

A graduate of MIT, he studied computer aided design and has always been a strong proponent of the importance of user friendly technology in daily life. He sees technology, especially computers, as being increasingly beneficial for humankind with still yet un tapped potential.

His major focus today is on children’s education around the world, believing that it is the key to growth. He is also believes that children can learn through doing, and should be in charge of their education. (Read more here) “Everybody agrees that whatever the solutions are to the big problems, they … can never be without some element of education.” – Nicholas Negroponte

Negroponte co-founded and directed the MIT Media Laboratory which strives to bring together creative and technological researchers and developers to study cutting edge technology and inventions that will impact everyday life.

He was also the first investor and a writer for Wired Magazine, as well as an investor in over thirty tech startups.

He has been described by some as having “techno-utopian” ideas that are not actually feasible, for example there are many critiques in the assigned reading Can One Laptop Per Child Save the World’s Poor?”

Watch Negroponte TED Talk on OLPC


More Info on Text4Baby

     Yesterday we had several guest speakers come talk to us about m-health and m-health initiatives. The program Text4Baby was cited as an example of a successful m-health program that effectively used text messaging to provide low-income mothers with useful information about pregnancy and infant care. This article from NYTimes.com notes that while there are hundreds of websites devoted to providing this type of information, many mothers do not have easy access to the internet. The monitoring and evaluation section of the project’s website cites the program’s many successes, including effectively reaching their target population, increasing health knowledge, and increasing appointment attendance. They also reported high levels of user satisfaction. Text4baby has also received a lot of publicity (Here’s a fun clip of a one of the mothers on MTV’s 16 and Pregnant explaining the program).

The article (which is from 2011) mentions governmental interest in applying the Text4Baby model to other societal health problems like obesity and smoking. However, part of the success of Text4Baby stems from it’s focus on new mothers who may be scared and overwhelmed with the responsibilities of an infant and therefore are very open to tips and reminders. The fact is that people are probably more motivated to take care of their children than they are to take care of themselves, which has significant consequences for anyone trying to create an m-health project from the Text4Baby model. As we discussed in class with regards to m-health and diabetes, it can be difficult to recruit people to participate in a program with they are not even sure whether or not they have the specific health problem in the first place.