by Dennis Portello
Everywhere you turn, a wave of seemingly ever-accelerating technology changes impact our world. From computers to communications, from basic research to go-to-market products, technology has increased productivity and, most would argue, increased our standard of living.
Against that backdrop not to mention the backdrop of individual lives, full of smartphones, computers, iPads and cars with more computing power than the systems guiding the first moon launch, its easy to forget a basic fact: Not everyone has access to this range of cool technology.
In fact, if youre reading this on a computer, youre in the minority, globally speaking. Accessing content on a smartphone? Youre in an even smaller group.
Thats a crucial point in the global healthcare market, where many of the biggest challenges lie in developing nations places where GDP per capita wont support basic sanitation or nutrition, much less a new iPhone.
Technology works in healthcare, supporting and providing positive patient outcomes. So what are the leading technologies being adapted for the developing world?
Cheap tablets and computers: On October 5, India launched the worlds cheapest tablet, the Aakash, priced as low as $35. Similarly, One Laptop Per Child¢‚Ç¨Àús XO and Intels Classmate PC share a common mission: Bringing children access to education through computer ownership. Both programs distribute laptops to schoolchildren across the developing world. These efforts are targeted at students and the general populace, but they also present enormous opportunities, both for devices loaded with appropriate software to inexpensively aid medical professionals in the developing world, and for health-related communications to a newly connected population.
Cheap mobile phones: Today, mobile phones are as inexpensive as $15. With more than 5 billion mobile phone subscribers and 90 percent of the worlds population covered by a cell signal, lowering the cost of mobile communications can provide a lifeline to hundreds of millions of people with no access to traditional landline communications. One company sees this as a way to change global healthcare: Medic Mobile is focusing on the lowly text message as a way to change how patients and doctors interact. Can low-tech SMS programs revolutionize global health? The key is ubiquity: In sub-Saharan Africa, for an example, 50 percent of people now have access to a cellphone. Within two years, if not sooner, that figure will jump to 100 percent. No other form of communications technology comes close.
Cheaper sanitation: Keep peoples food and water clean, and youll solve a lot of health issues. So it should be no surprise that technology is driving down the cost of sanitation. Indias Tata Chemical has released an affordable at around $21 water filter that needs no electricity, yet purifies water to U.S. EPA standards. Although new and not yet pervasive, the filters address an enormous problem: Advocacy group water.org reports that one billion people dont have access to clean water, and 2.5 billion people dont have improved sanitation.
If these advances sound a bit like something out of science fiction, then take comfort in the fact that weve been here before. From the first vaccines to the first X-ray machines, first MRI devices and first genome sequencing, the march of healthcare has been the story of advances aided by technology. And, at each step along the way, there have been parallel efforts to try and make these technologies more mainstream and less expensive so they can also aid the developing world.