Date: Thu, 6 Nov 1997 13:18:20 -5
Sender: "African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List" <AFRIK-IT@LISTSERV.HEA.IE>
From: Jeff Cochrane <cochrane@IGC.ORG>
New communications technology project helps save lives in Africa
AFP, 4 November 1997
The article below found its way into my mailbox via a somewhat circuitous route. I hope AFP won't mind my submitting it here for comments. I'd be curious to hear what folks in Ghana and Kenya think of the mentioned projects.
PARIS, Nov 4 (AFP) - New communications technology is saving lives in Africa thanks to a World Bank-backed project bringing the latest technology to the world's poorest countries, officials said Tuesday.
A doctor in Zambia was able to treat a patient suffering from malaria thanks to his electronic mail computer link, World Bank telecommunications director James Bond told a press conference.
The doctor sent a message detailing the man's symptoms to a colleague in London, who suggested he contact an expert at the National Institute for Health in Bethesda, Washington.
The U.S. expert recognised the symptoms as belonging to a form of malaria not normally seen in Zambia, and was able to tell the doctor how to treat it, Bond said after a meeting of donors to the InfoDev project.
InfoDev provides money and finds projects to bring the latest telecommunications technology to the most far-flung corners of ** developing countries, enabling them to "leapfrog" to the forefront of the information age.
Other projects funded by InfoDev include enabling coffee and cocoa growers in Ivory Coast to dial up commodity prices directly in London, and another alowing small rural businesses in Cameroon to sell their products direct via computer link to overseas clients.
Projects in the pipeline include a cellular telephone system for areas of Kenya which has no telephones at all.
Such initiatives provide relatively low-cost solutions to the most disadvantaged areas, World Bank officials said.
The cost of a phone call on the Kenyan system may be relatively expensive at around three dollars a minute, but at least there will be a system available, said World Bank principal economist for telecommunications Carlos Primo Baga.
At the moment even companies who could afford to use a phone system simply do not have access to one in rural areas.
And the price should be put in the context of the fact that for millions of people in Africa their nearest access to information involves a walk of hours, if not days, to the nearest town.
Africa is one of the worst-served regions in the world for telecommunications, with one telephone for every 100 people, and if South Africa is excluded the number is one phone for 500 people, Bond said.
"There are as many telephones on Manhattan Island (in New York) as in the whole of Africa," he added.
The InfoDev initiative is important because it puts funds into relatively low-cost solutions which take advantage of new technological developments.
In the case of the Kenyan project, for instance, setting up a cellular phone system will be cheaper than laying phone lines into rural areas.
Another project in the pipeline is a 600,000 dollar plan for a computerised mobile bank system in Ghana, for which InfoDev would provide 50,000 dollars.
InfoDev groups donor governments, nongovernmental organisations and private enterprise to provide grants for generally low-cost projects to give the world's poorest countries tailor-made new communications technology.
The programme is driven from the bottom up, so that te beneficiaries have a chance to explain their needs and have the technology built to fit them.