Achieving greater Internet access in developing countries can save lives, transform communities and revolutionize the quality and provision of healthcare for hundreds of millions of people today. Not only should connectivity be part of the global development agenda, it must be recognized as a vital enabler of the entire agenda.
There are several important reasons for this.
First, better tools for diagnosis and communications can lead to differences in health outcomes. - mobile phones can be the difference between life and death. One group of students at Stanford, through our Liberation Technology course, recently produced a mobile app to improve clean water delivery in a large slum in Kenya, allowing users of the app to locate the cheapest prices for water in their community, comment on quality and identify sources of water that make people ill. Another app for community workers targets cholera treatment in areas without any physicians. While many of us in the developed world use our mobile phones for triviality, in developing countries they can be the first line of defense in a public health emergency.
Second, the Internet has a vital role to play in supporting the broader socioeconomic changes in developing countries necessary to improve quality of life. Disease, malnutrition and poor health are products of poverty, and countries that struggle with these challenges need jobs and growth as much as they need the right drugs and treatments. .
Third, the Internet provides an amazing opportunity today to spread greater knowledge that can help save lives and transform approaches to global health. On the simplest level, the Internet can be used by local physicians, community workers and ill patients in developing countries to find information and resources cheaper and faster. Recipes downloaded online for homemade oral rehydration salts that prevent dehydration and death from diarrhea can be just as effective as more expensive imported vaccines.
Achieving access to clean water, food and healthcare are essential priorities for developing countries. Connectivity isn’t a substitute for these things. But no one suggested it should be. All the evidence today suggests that connectivity is an enabler of the broader development agenda. Today, the Internet can not only help mean the difference between eating and starving, sickness and health, or life and death, but can help defend human rights, improve governance, empower the poor and promote economic development.