It”s easy for either side in the techno-fix debate — the debate that almost always ensues when a particularly technological solution to poverty or inequity is proposed or launched — to simply dismiss the other as blindly stuck in an ideological rut. It’s also tempting for observers of the debate to dismiss the debate as so polarized as to be of little value since the truth of any matter is often located somewhere between the two warring camps.
Here’s an interesting analysis by Oxfam’s Duncan Green arguing that this highly polarized debate may deserve a closer look for what it reveals.
One might expect that with growing access to cheap smartphones around the world, cybercafes are destined for the wastebin of history. Why pay a fee to use a stodgy old desktop computer to get online? It’s all in the palms of our hands now.
A new study from the University of Washington turns that logic on its head. “One technology doesn’t replace the other. People need large, broadband service,” says Chris Coward, the director of UW’s Technology and Social Change Group. He says the five-year study shows definitively that mobile phones, contrary to some claims, “will not solve the access problem.”
Coward and his team scoured the earth, working with local research teams and surveying more than 5,000 computer users in Bangladesh, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Ghana, Lithuania, Philippines and South Africa. What they found seems counter-intuitive.
“We saw large usership in every place we visited,” Coward says, of libraries, telecenters and cybercafes. Continue reading
“The profession is more attractive to individuals seeking cognitive ‘closure’ and clear-cut answers as opposed to more open-ended sciences — a disposition which has been empirically linked to conservative political attitudes.”
The malaria parasite already did this, creating a selective process in human evolution which gave some increased resistance to malaria but also caused sickle cell anemia. Scientists now report evidence that people in Bangladesh, where cholera is prevalent, are developing genetic resistance to the disease.
A new analysis, reported by SciDev, finds that developing nations are often the most efficient innovators, achieving results in areas such as scientific research, infrastructure and technology production with relatively low inputs.
Mali, Guinea, Swaziland, Indonesia, Nigeria, Kuwait, Costa Rica and Venezuela were said to be among the top ten most efficient innovators.
Guest post by Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
Mental health problems cause a surprising amount of suffering around the world. More than 450 million people are estimated to suffer from some form of mental illness. A recent podcast from The Guardian explored the extra challenges many people afflicted with mental illness face in developing countries such as harassment, stigma, and inability to earn a living.
In 2010, mental and behavioral disorders–which include conditions like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and drug and alcohol use disorders—caused 23% of total years lost due to disability at the global level.
Mental health issues cause the most disability in ages 15 through 39, as seen in the graph below, which is a screenshot from one of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s data visualization tools associated with the Global Burden of Disease 2010 database.
- Gates Foundation
There’s a push on to expand the use of genetically modified (GM) crops in Africa.
The proponents contend these modifications can help smallholder farmers by improving crop resistance to pests or droughts. Critics argue that GM crops (or GMOs, genetically modified organisms) will disrupt traditional agricultural methods and promote expensive, damaging pesticide and fertilizer use.
The public (and media) debate over GM crops is usually focused on safety or environmental concerns. Arguably, the primary focus should be the economics and how the technological advances will impact smallholder farmers — as opposed to simple measures of crop yields, etc.
Two recent articles, one from NPR and an op-ed by The Guardian do a good job of presenting the landscape.
NPR asks Will GMOs help protect Ugandan farmers from hunger?
Growing GM crops to sell is currently legal in only in the region: Egypt, Sudan, Burkina Faso and South Africa. But scientists, farmers and international organizations are pressuring other governments to relax restrictions on the technology. They argue that engineered crops have the potential to alleviate some of the grave threats to food production, from plant diseases to climate change.
The Guardian published an op-ed that answered, saying no, GM crops won’t help African farmers:
But GM crops pose an even greater threat to Africa’s greatest wealth. GM companies make it illegal to save seed. We have seen that farmers in North America whose crop was cross-pollinated by GM pollen have been sued by the GM company. About 80% of African small-scale farmers save their seed. How are they supposed to protect the varieties they have developed, crossed and shared over generations from GM contamination? This will be a disaster for them.
The Lancet, one of the world’s most pre-eminent biomedical science journals and arguably the leading research publication focused on global health, has launched its first ever free, open-access journal – devoted to covering global health.
Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, was in Seattle last week for a big meeting on global health metrics. Horton is always lively and entertaining, so we can hope this new journal will be the same. The new editor for this project, Zoë Mullan, discussed the new publication with Horton in this video below explaining the rationale for this new publication celebrating that there will be ‘no barriers’ to public access.
(Yet I’m not allowed to share the video because they don’t allow embedding…. )
Highlighted in the first Lancet Global Health is a commentary by Richard Feachem and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco that poses the question Malaria eradication: Is it possible? Is it worth it? Should we do it?
I expected a critical analysis of the pros and cons. But Feachem and his colleagues, who are financially supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the leading voice favoring eradication) and do malaria research, simply made the case for their benefactor’s position and more funding of their work. Oh well, it’s the first issue.