Smartphones, Apps, Students Hackers and Startups Making Revolutionary Technology to Help the Poor at Low Cost

Brian Wang | Nextbigfuture | February 21, 2011

Technology Review - Last year College Senior Njenga and three classmates developed a program that will let thousands of Kenyan health workers use mobile phones to report and track the spread of diseases in real time—and they'd done it for a tiny fraction of what the government had been on the verge of paying for such an application.

The problem he had tackled was critical in a nation where one in 25 is HIV-positive (10 times the U.S. rate) and AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria are among the leading killers. In 2010, the Kenyan government realized it had to do something about its chaotic system for tracking infectious diseases in order to improve the response to outbreaks and report cases to the World Health Organization.

Handwritten reports and text messages describing deaths and new cases of disease would stream in from more than 5,000 clinics around the nation and pivot through more than 100 district offices before being manually entered into a database in Nairobi. The health ministry wanted to let community health workers put information into the database directly from mobile phones, which are ubiquitous in Kenya. The ministry initially sought a solution the usual way: it explored hiring a multinational contractor...