Friday, August 16, 2013

Gadgets for the poor and sick

How much can technological advances be expected to narrow the gap between the richer and poorer countries of the world, including the health gap in terms of life expectancy, morbidity, mortality, and the rest of the merry gang of indicators?

I guess I tend to be a bit skeptical about high-tech gadgets lifting people and communities out of situations of disease, oppression and squalor. For example: Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is awash with cellphones. Unfortunately, that is not all it is awash with, and having a cellphone in itself is not much help when you struggle with a dodgy food supply, a cholera outbreak or an electricity grid gone AWOL.

So when Huffington Post asked me to comment on a TED talk about an innovative way of controlling malaria in Africa by zapping mosquitos with lasers ... my diminished enthusiasm was hard to hide. I hope I am proved wrong: maybe the lasers will rid Africa of the vectors of disease that cause so much mayhem. Who in their right mind wouldn't want that? But I have the feeling that technological inventions flourish in social, political and economic circumstances that are already in relatively good shape, while in the less favorable ones, they just add to the decor.

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