Tag Archives: Apps for Development

New mHealth App to Fight Disease in the Developing World

Colorimetrix, a new smartphone app, could serve as a health care game changer in developing nations.  The app, which was developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, measures color based saliva or urine tests through the phone’s camera. The user takes a picture of a test strip that has been placed in the solution, and the app uses an algorithm to transmit the results into a readable number.  Results can then be sent to healthcare providers or specialists for analysis in real time.

This app has the potential to transform the current means of patient screening.  It provides quick, low-cost and portable diagnostics that can be transferred to medical professionals around the globe within seconds.  Patients are also able to monitor chronic conditions, such as diabetes, with this app. Also, because patients are able to transmit results information so quickly, Colorimetrix may be able to slow or limit the spread of pandemic diseases by communicating with community healthcare professionals.  “This app has the potential to help in the fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria in the developing world, bringing the concept of mobile healthcare to reality,” said Ali Yetisen, a PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Biotechnology.

There are some major strengths to this app, the main one being how quickly it can connect patient data to physicians to interpret the results. This would cut down on hospital expenses, empower patients, and allow for less waiting time in health clinics.  On the other hand, systemic healthcare problems and technological capacity within many developing nations may inhibit this app from reaching its full potential.  Lack of trained healthcare providers to interpret results and low bandwidth in developing countries may pose barriers to the adoption of this app.

Tin Can: Connecting Individuals without Cell Service or the Internet

Tin Can, a new mobile phone application, allows mobile phones to communicate with each other without cell service or connection to the Internet. According to developer Mark Katakowski, Tin Can allows users to contact other participating mobile phones within 100 feet. While this range appears limited, the relay capability is actually much larger, given that all recipients can relay the message to phones within 100 feet, so the radius of information becomes larger with each recipient.

This application uses Wi-Fi radio capability to connect users, but ultimately does not require any Internet connection. Tin Can is currently available for smart phones only but Katakowski hopes to expand its potential in the near future.

Tin Can has the potential to revolutionize how individuals in the developing world communicate with each other. In areas where cell and Internet service is both expensive and unavailable, Tin Can can connect individuals through basic communication and even data sharing, which is largely unavailable in many areas of the world. This innovation could prove especially useful in organizing civil society events or mobilizing large groups of people, a task often reserved for Twitter when available. Protest efforts, such as those recently occurring in Egypt and Turkey, could have benefitted from this technology. This technology highlights the capability of collective data sharing in times of crisis, as outlined by Patrick Meier in his 2011 Ted Talk.

Tin Can could prove especially valuable for broadcasting in protest settings, where many individuals are in close proximity.

Tin Can faces one dominant criticism: it could potentially enable the spread of viruses or malware and, given the source anonymity of mass messages, these malicious hacks are virtually untraceable. Katakowski is currently examining solutions to this problem and recognizes that this weakness prevents Apple from sponsoring the app at the present moment.

Read the full article here.

Mobile Phone Revolution

According to a new World Bank study, 75% of the plantet’s population now has access to mobile phones. As we have explored through various reports in this class, phones are used in myriad ways. Health and financial services are becoming inextricable from mobile phone technology, and the impact is being seen through employment and government sectors. While this study encapsulates a great deal of information, I would like to focus on something we have not directly covered in class–employment and the role for government involvement. According the this study (Information and Communications for Development 2012), the mobile phone industry has become a major source of employment opportunities on both the supply and demand side (Kelly and Minges pg. 8). Interestingly, one chapter of the work is focused on something referred to as business incubators or mobile labs (mLabs) for supporting entrepreneurial activity in the mobile industry, as well as new economic opportunities related to trading goods and services that exist only online. In an interest to learn more about this concept I found this site : mLab Southern Africa. MLab Southern Africa is classified as a “mobile solutions laboratory and startup accelerator” which provides entrepreneurs and mobile developers with the tools they need to develop innovative mobile applications and services. They work to build a sustainable technology business that will meet the demands of a growing base of mobile consumers in Africa and around the world.

We are witnessing an entire new app economy develop! According to the aforementioned study, more than 30 billion “apps,” were downloaded in 2011 –“software that extends the capabilities of phones, for instance to become mobile wallets, navigational aids, or price comparison tools”  (World Bank). As we have seen, new apps reshape and create new livelihoods for many individuals in the developing world–the very creators of that technology reflect a new economic sector.

If the larger goal at hand is to empower the poor, it can be seen that mobile phones are a critical platform for unleashing tools and services. But these platforms are problematized by cost, control, and barriers to innovation.  Those of us who are excited about opportunities for technology and development (and all these new Apps we have investigated) must recognize the tensions presented by any combination of technologies and social, governmental, and economic structures.

ICT4D Professional Profile: Ory Okolloh

Ory Okolloh is a Kenyan activist, lawyer, and blogger who is currently employed with Google as the Policy Manager for Africa. In addition, Okolloh has also been known to create a number of websites (engaging in mobile phones, social media, and Google Maps) in order to increase the use of communication and information practices in underdeveloped nations, specifically within the region of Africa where her geographical area of focus is. I chose to write about Ory Okolloh because I feel as though she is an incredible example of applying ICTs to underdeveloped nations by identifying a need and then applying that need to practices of communication and information.

Okolloh’s first ICT4D endeavor was during the year of 2006, where she had co-founded the parliamentary watchdog site Mzalendo, defined as Patriot in Swahili. The website’s mission is to “keep an eye on the Kenyan government” (www.mzalendo.com).  In addition to Mzalendo, Okolloh had also assisted in creating the website Ushahidi, defined as testimony in Swahili. Ushahidi collects and records witness reports of violence by using technological resources such as text messages and Google Maps.

Furthermore, although Okolloh has worked with underdeveloped nations through a number of ICT4D practices, she also has her own individual online blog that is called Kenyan Pundit. Kenyan Pundit was created in result of Okolloh’s  website Ushahidi. Reporting on happenings in Kenya and also referencing other Kenyan blogs of similarity, it acts as an outlet of information and communication for individuals that reside in Kenya and within other nations around the world. However, Okolloh has decided to resign as Ushahidi’s executive director, leaving a good-bye post on Kenyan Pundit. Okolloh states that since the beginning of the creation of Ushahidi “it has been a crazy ride…from producing an incredible open source platform and working towards scale, to building and working with an incredibly talented team, to seeing multiple uses of Ushahidi around the world, to numerous awards and press mentions.” 
For me, what has always been the most important aspect of the work we do has remained simple, building a tool that makes it easy for individuals and groups to tell their stories, and making it easy for these stories to be mapped/visualized. Ushahidi has grown to be that and much more, thanks especially to the wider community, which saw potential uses beyond crisis reporting and who largely shaped our growth and direction to date be it through translation efforts (Ushahidi now available in 10 languages!), or custom themes, or pushing for a hosted version (Crowdmap), or challenging us to address the shortcomings of the platform (through tools like Swift River and our community resource page) (Okolloh, www.kenyanpundit.com). Nevertheless, what Okolloh is most proud of, is the fact that Ushahidi’s platform has extended to underdeveloped nations around the world, each attempting to diminish the digital divide and continue to strive for increased accessibility of communication and information practices.




The ICT4Peace Foundation “aims to facilitate improved, effective and sustained communication between peoples, communities and stakeholders involved in conflict prevention, mediation and peace building through better understanding of and enhanced application of Information Communications Technology (ICT) including Media” (www.ict4peace.org). In addition, ICT4Peace also looks at the roles of ICT’s within crisis management and how such crisis’s can be prevented in the future by creating viable solutions. By creating a bridge between individuals and organizations that are active during different crisis phases, ICT4Peace looks to instate cohesive and collaborative mechanisms parallel with Paragragh 36 of the WSIS Tunis Declaration: “We value the potential of ICTs to promote peace and to prevent conflict which, inter alia, negatively affects achieving development goals. ICTs can be used for identifying conflict situations through early-warning systems preventing conflicts, promoting their peaceful resolution, supporting humanitarian action, including protection of civilians in armed conflicts, facilitating peacekeeping missions, and assisting post conflict peace-building and reconstruction” (www.ict4peace.org).

Paragraph 36 was introduced during the diplomatic negotiations of 2004 as a part of the WSIS Tunis Commitment in 2005. As an offshoot of another initiative, the ICT4Peace Foundation was established during the Spring of 2006 in order to raise awareness about the Tunis Commitment and promote it’s ideas for good crisis management. ICT4Peace is run by an unpaid advisory board under the Chairmanship of President Marti Ahtisaari. In addition, there are also a number of organisations that are partnered with ICT4Peace:  Crisis Management Initiative, UN DESA, GAID, Interpeace, ISCRAM, InfoShare, UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Department of Political Affairs (DPA), Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), UNICEF, UNHCR, UNFPA, and UNDP. Together, ICT4Peace is able to focus on improving crisis information management by instructing the international community on how to better use ICTs.

Four ways in which the ICT4Peace Foundation is able to carry out its initiative to improve crisis information management is though enhancing the performance of the international community in crisis information management through ICT, developing training templates for ICT, media, and communications in conflict management, improving existing ICT4Peace initiatives and tools (ICT4Peace Wiki), and through policy outreach and awareness creation in the field of ICT4Peace. Some of the most recent projects that the ICT4Peace Foundation has worked on include: developing research on the role of ICT and information management in preventing, responding to and recovering from conflict, launching a partnership with the DESA Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID) and the United Nations office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), creating the ICT4Peace inventory wiki, and organizing a series of meetings at the United Nations in order to introduce the foundation to potential stakeholders.

What I found to be most interesting of all their recent work is the ICT4Peace inventory wiki. The ICT4Peace wiki is a global database of ICT in crisis management, humanitarian aid, and peace building. As the ICT4Peace foundation is an outlet for communication and information, the ICT4Peace wiki is an example of how individuals can go onto the internet and quickly find up to date information on crisis management. The ICT4Peace wiki specifically contains information on ICT tools and mechanisms centered towards conflict early warning, mitigation, transformation and post conflict recovery. In my opinion, ICT4Peace is a innovative foundation that is directly working to meet the needs of the people in a simple and cohesive manner that will create sustainability in times of crisis.

To learn more about ICT4Peace click here or here.

Mobile Devices Monitor Health

In the New York Times article “Monitoring Your Health with Mobile Devices”, Dr. Eric Topol jokingly commented that “the smartphone is the future of medicine–because most of his patients already seem ‘surgically connected’ to one”, but this statement is becoming a reality.  In today’s age, most people are too busy taking care of their families, working, and attending school to take a day off to visit a doctor.  With the assistance of smartphones, many people will have access to apps and relatively low-priced attachments that measure health statistics such as heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and a plethora of others.  In addition to providing patients with information about their current health state, this information can be sent to doctors to further evaluate and to determine if a follow up appointment will be necessary.

Of course, these methods of health measurement will have a certain percentage of error and will not be 100% accurate, but the immediate access to these statistics can assist people who do not have the time, money, or opportunity to attend regular doctor appointments to monitor themselves more closely.

Although the majority of developing countries do not have a high rate of smartphone access, even having a few smartphones per community with a connection to a doctor will help improve overall health tremendously.  If a patient believes that he or she may be in need of care, but has difficulty finding transportation to a health care professional, he or she can send information to the doctor and receive feedback or perhaps a recommendation to see another professional who is located closer to the patient’s home.

The new technology associated with mobile devices is incredible and the more availability to these technological services that can be spread worldwide, the faster the developing world can better themselves and further innovation.

Indian Mobile App Tracks Women to Prevent Violence

A new mobile phone application in India called “Fight Back” strives to keep women more safe.  The application is tailored for those who must walk by themselves at night in areas that are unsafe such as New Delhi, the city with the most rapes world wide.  When “Fight Back” is activated, the application tracks the user’s exact location until arrival at his or her destination.  If at any point the user feels endangered, he or she may press the “panic” button, which immediately emails, calls, and texts a set list of contacts to alert them of their endangered friend’s whereabouts.  The police in India are often problematic, and therefore it is more helpful for a chosen set of people to act on the alert.

Upon reading the article, I thought that “Fight Back” was a fantastic idea to help to subtly ensure the safety of women, but further research has left me uncertain.  The application not only tracks women’s routes home, but it displays a live feed of the exact location of attacks on its website.  This could lead potential predators to study the alert maps and target more unsuspecting areas.  If the application’s creators fell victim to corruption, they could use this information to stage muggings or other type of attacks, and since the police are not connected to panic calls, attackers would easily escape from the law.  The Indian police force is currently contemplating involvement, but corruption and injustice could continue to exist even with this new partnership.  For example, Indian authorities have ruled that “provocative attire was an invitation to rape”, allowing men to be excused for their violence.

Technology both helps and hurts us in every aspect of life.  Although “Fight Back” has seemingly pure intentions, it instills a fear in women and does not address the root causes of the violence.  The streets of India can be made safer through better lighting, reliable transportation, and the presence of safety officials, not an application to track down the exact location of nervous, unaccompanied women.