AIDS in South Africa
South Africa has the world’s largest HIV/AIDS epidemic with 7.5 million people currently living with the virus. One of the main reasons why it has not been contained is a lack of testing. Less than 25% of the population has been tested in South Africa, where it is estimated that around 13% of people have AIDS. The lack of testing is caused by the negative stigma which still surrounds the virus, as well as the lack of access to reasonable testing and treatment methods. Now, cell phones are providing a new way for people with AIDS in South Africa to get tested and seek treatment. This is a massive step that may save millions of lives in the future.

Project Masiluleke

Project Masiluleke is an NGO providing these essential services in South Africa. It has developed multiple different steps to reduce the number of those affected by HIV/AIDS in South Africa. One of the main services is a program called SocialTxt which encourages people to get tested as well as refers them to medical guidance via text message. Texting is a valuable mode of communication because it is able to reach approximately 90% of the South African population. Since the implementation of this project, the number of daily calls to the National AIDS Helpline has tripled. Being able to easily access HIV/AIDS support services via cell phone has encouraged more and more people to seek help.

However, many South Africans still refuse to get tested because there is such a negative stigma around HIV/AIDS. This is a large part of why cases have continued to spread in South Africa. To help overcome this barrier, Project Masiluleke also provides users with self-testing kits. This way, people sign up for a kit via text message and then are able to take the test in total privacy. This method lets people feel more secure during the entire process and has encouraged many more people to get tested and seek treatment.


Cell-Life is an NGO based in Cape Town, South Africa that seeks to help those affected by HIV by developing new technologies. They have developed several different texting services that send daily medication reminders. This organization also focuses on treatment literacy, which seeks to make people more aware of the resources they have to combat the virus. One of the most important things in the fight against AIDS is making sure people know they have support structures and can communicate with providers as well as other members of their community.

Moving Forward

Project Masiluleke and Cell-Life are great examples of new technologies bringing solutions to ongoing issues. NGOs taking advantage of widespread cell phone use to tackle the AIDS epidemic in South Africa are setting an example for other organizations and countries. Moving forward, these organizations and others must continue to use new technologies to increase access to resources and testing. Hopefully, with the help of cell phones, the spread of AIDS in South Africa will slow.

Jackson Bramhall
Photo: Flickr

Women with Mobile PhonesMobile phones have impacted society in a way that few other innovations can claim to equal. The devices not only allow for efficient worldwide communication through text, voice or video but also come fitted with cameras, microphones, calculators, music, GPS and many other apps and gadgets.

Most importantly, mobile phones allow people to easily access the internet from almost any location. One of the largest impacts has occurred in the lives of women with mobile phones.

By checking the internet or downloading an application, many people in areas like Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia can help themselves rather than relying on inadequate public services. Apps and websites can provide those people services and education regarding water and proper sanitation, maternal and early life care, banking services, legal counseling, disease prevention and even new or improved farming methods.

Access to these types of information or services can make all the difference for a young, expecting mother or for a village with minimal water sources. In fact, some people believe mobile phones are one of the most effective tools in the fight against global poverty.

Unfortunately, not everyone has equal access to mobile devices in developing countries. According to the Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), women are being left behind in gaining new types of technology. It is estimated that there are around 200 million more men than women with mobile phones in low and middle-income countries.

There are several reasons for this difference, but there are two main factors that contribute to that gap. The first is that there are social norms that prevent women from seeking and learning about technology. The second comes from women being less financially independent than men in developing countries. The lack of money prevents them from being able to seek out technology.

In order to reach gender equality, women must be empowered. In this case, empowerment comes through women with mobile phones, which is exactly what GSMA is working towards.

The GSMA is an organization that represents the interests of mobile operators around the world. Through the Connected Women Commitment (CWC), the GSMA attempts to reduce the gender gap in mobile services such as internet and mobile money access. The CWC works by having mobile operators make a commitment to improving their services for women by 2020.

Recently, the GSMA announced that nine new mobile operators signed the CWC, including several African operators. These nine will join the other eight companies that have already signed. The GSMA plans to continue gathering signatures in hopes of not only empowering women but of capturing an estimated $170 billion market opportunity that may come from doing so.

Empowering women through mobile phones and internet can have significant economic benefits, and spreading technological access should be an important and relevant goal for all nations.

Weston Northrop

Photo: Flickr

A new study published by the University of Washington and the University of California, Berkeley reports that mobile cell phone information can be used to measure levels of wealth and poverty in developing countries.

Historically, poverty data in developing countries has been difficult to measure because information is captured through door-to-door surveys.

“[Cell phones] could be a useful policy instrument to estimate the geographic distribution of poverty and wealth,” said Joshua Blumenstock, one of the study’s authors, in a NY Times interview.

Blumenstock and his colleagues used anonymous data from 1.5 million subscribers of Rwanda’s largest mobile phone network. The team analyzed billions of interactions which included the time and length of phone calls as well as text messages. Cellphone towers helped them get a rough idea of geographic location.

During the study, the researchers also interviewed 850 cell phone owners. The respondents were asked about their housing situations, the assets they had access to and other indicators of wealth or poverty.

The researchers used this information to create an algorithm that predicts a person’s wealth based on their cellphone usage. Using this model, the team was able to answer more specific questions including whether a house has electricity.

Notably, the resulting wealth and poverty maps closely mirrored the findings of the Rwandan government’s door-to-door surveys.

The researchers are trying to conduct similar work in Afghanistan because certain areas are dangerous or too difficult to access and door-to-door surveys are not possible.

“We do not think this method is the be-all or end-all, but in the absence of good information, this is better than nothing,” said Blumenstock. However, the researchers’ approach could lead to new ways to quickly analyze poverty at a fraction of the cost of other methods.

Jordan Connell

Sources: PC Tech Magazine, The New York Times
Photo: Flickr

$25 phone
In a bid to introduce itself to emerging markets, Microsoft will soon be launching a $25 phone for new consumers in Africa and Asia. The Nokia 130 will be available later this year in select markets like Egypt, India, China, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and the Philippines. The technology titan describes the low-priced phone as an attractive choice for people looking to purchase their first mobile phones.

More than an estimated 1 billion people worldwide still lack mobile phones, as mainstream options that cater to the already industrialized world are too costly. Simultaneously, there is a growing demand in both high-growth and mature markets for dependable backup phones. Microsoft touts the Nokia 130 as perfect for both scenarios, calling it “an ideal handset for first-time mobile phone buyers, or for people seeking a reliable backup phone to complement their existing smartphones.”

“As demand in the affordable mobile segment continues to grow, Microsoft remains committed to delivering market-leading mobile innovation at each and every price point,” said Microsoft’s corporate vice president for phones, Jo Harlow.

According to the company, an annual 300 million phones are sold in the under-$35 sector. Shipments of low-end smartphones are projected to reach 1.1 billion in just four years at an annual growth rate of over 19 percent.

The Nokia 130 is a basic phone with limited features and no internet capability, sacrifices that were required in order to achieve its low price tag of $25. However, it does include several more advanced features like music and video playback, content sharing through Bluetooth, SD card, or USB and a flashlight. The music player will provide up to 46 hours of playback on just a single charge and the battery can last for more than five weeks on standby.

“With handsets like the Nokia 130, we see tremendous potential to deliver the experience of a ‘mobile-first’ world to people seeking their first device, and we continue to invest in ultra-affordable devices that will introduce people to a ‘cloud-first’ world,” said Harlow.

Though the cheap handset business is uncharted waters for Microsoft, Nokia is a veteran of this market. Microsoft acquired the latter’s handset business previously this year and hopes that reaching consumers of developing nations will build a new audience base.

Nokia once reigned mighty in the mobile business, but its market share has deteriorated in recent years. However, the recognition and credibility that is still associated with the Nokia brand will help attract consumers to Microsoft’s new phone, and the easily affordable $25 phone will introduce new consumers to Microsoft’s other services, like Bing and OneDrive. Eventually, when these new consumers decide to upgrade beyond basic phones, they may be inclined to choose a Microsoft smartphone.

“Microsoft doesn’t have any other project that can reach these consumers,” said Harlow. “These consumers will create a Microsoft account and become part of the Microsoft ecosystem.”

Annie Jung

Sources: Market Watch, PC Mag, CNBC, Recode
Photo: PCMag

Mozilla, a company best known for its Internet browser, plans to release a $25 smartphone. The inexpensive phone is not intended to compete with existing markets where Android and Apple dominate, but rather to be sold in emerging markets in places like India and Indonesia.

The phone will run Firefox OS — Mozilla’s HTML-5 web-based operating system. A notable quality of the operating system is its open ecosystem that allows for a wide choice of applications.

Collaborating with handset makers and wireless carriers, Mozilla has already provided Latin America and Europe with $60 smartphones. However, that price is too much for most consumers in developing countries where the dollar goes a long way. Feature phones still dominate in India and Indonesia due to their low cost.

Working with Chinese chip maker, Spreadtrum Communications Inc., Mozilla hopes the $25 price point will compel consumers in emerging markets to make the switch from feature phones to smartphones.

Mozilla also hopes to distribute in China. However, whether Mozilla is able to compete in a country where smartphones are already prevalent remains a mystery. Currently there is no timetable for the company’s expansion into China.

To distribute their phones, Mozilla has typically relied upon carriers, but in this instance plans to work with electronics retailers and local handset brands to expand its distribution operations. Mozilla expects to ship more than 10 million units over the next 12 months.

The largest problem Mozilla faces is the lack of infrastructure. Although India and Indonesia have been improving their mobile broadband infrastructures, they are nowhere near satisfactory.

If Mozilla is able to generate enough consumer demand, it is possible that it may encourage the lawmakers and telecom companies to make investments to improve the infrastructure of their networks.

For those in poverty, the expansion of smartphones is good step forward. Studies have shown that cellphones may improve literacy rates, as well as allow people to send money and communicate with family members.

With low cost smartphones, Mozilla is helping to bridge the gap between those in poverty and those in developed countries. And with that narrowing gap comes new benefits, skills and possibilities for people to escape poverty.

— William Ying

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, PCWorld, BBC, Time, The Borgen Project
Photo: The Wall Street Journal

Like Pavlov’s dogs, humans have been thoroughly conditioned to check their mobile phones at the merest vibration, imagined or otherwise. So much so that an annual report by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byer’s found that people check their phones approximately 23 times per day for messages, 22 times for a voice call and 18 times to check the time.

There also exists a term for the anxiety experienced by people without their phones, even for short periods of time. Nomophobia, the fear of not having or not being able to use a cell phone, may result in nausea, panic and desperation, according to a survey conducted by a security application called Lookout.

Although such behavioral ticks may arguably describe many citizens of the industrialized world, various organizations have lashed out against cell phone dependence. Ranging from musicians like the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, who urged audience members to “put that shit away,” to restaurants banning cell phones at the door, backlash against cell phone usage has a growing audience.

In perhaps the most humanitarian reaction to cell phone dependence and its backlash, UNICEF has begun the Tap Project- a campaign that rewards people for not checking their phones. For every minute a user does not ‘tap’ their phone, sponsors will fund one day of clean water to one water-insecure individual.

As for ‘why water,’ UNICEF reports that 768 million people don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water and 2.5 billion people do not have access to a proper toilet. Water-insecurity results in poor hygiene and a greater spread of diseases, causing more than 3.4 million deaths annually. Nearly 99 percent of these deaths occur in the developing world.

Ironically, nearly 10 times as many people in the world have cell phones compared to those who still use open defecation practices in India alone, 5.9 billion and 626 million people, respectively.

The program does not work on iPads nor droid phones (leaving some unable to test their willpower,) but even if only 200 of the nine million people who bought the new iPhone 5 in September did not check their smartphone for one minute, it would generate enough money for UNICEF to give one child safe drinking water for 200 days.

UNICEF’s campaign provides an excellent out for people trapped in a technology blackhole. Best portrayed during the sketch comedy “Portlandia” by Fred Armisen, his character gets stuck in a loop where he constantly rotates from checking his phone, email, Netflix account until his brain overloads and shuts down.

While people will not self-combust from phone use (although injuries sustained from cell phone usage is on the rise,) thanks to UNICEF, cell phone users have all the incentive they need to put down their phones and become conscious members of society again, one minute at a time.

– Emily Bajet 

Sources: UNICEF USA, ABC News, NY Mag, Lookout, Show Bams, ITU, UNICEF,, Apple
Photo: World Concern

cell phones development
Tools for development: food sustainability, basic health care, education and… cell phones?

As the global technology industry expands, cell phones are reaching rural locations in some of the poorest nations and contributing to their development. Some companies, such as Digicel, are even going beyond communication to improve lives and communities.

The founder of Digicel, Denis O’Brien, has pledged a 20%-philanthropic focus with his company. “So many companies in emerging markets do nothing for the country or the people. We are not modern-day conquistadors. We want to do some real good in the counties we invest in.” In Haiti, Digicel is everywhere: hand-painted onto billboards that line the streets of Port-au-Prince, phone cards available at many small roadside stores, and in the hands of the majority of Haitians. The number of people with cell phones has been increasing since 2009, when nearly half of all Haitians had access to phones; a significant increase from the 5% who had access when Digicel began.

The increased affordability and usage of cell phones has made a considerable impact in reducing poverty. It has transformed the way business and agriculture sectors operate. Prior to cell phones, truck drivers would search the Haitian countryside for farmers in backyards and small orchards with crops to sell. Now, truck drivers are able to locate farmers and pick up larger yields of crops, instead of having to search for those who are selling crops. This secures markets and prices and increases efficiency for both the farmer and seller. In addition, travel costs are significantly cut.

As a company, Digicel aims to improve education in Haiti. “O’Brien knows every inch of Haiti, what the needs are and how well Digicel is doing to meet those needs.” They also provide opportunities for micro-businesses to participate in village phone programs. Digicel, the largest telecommunications operator in the Caribbean, has also made profound impacts in the Pacific. Expanding to Tonga, Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa, with similar goals in sight.

Maris Brummel

Sources: Forbes, EJISDC

Can Cell Phones Save the World?

It can send texts and it can make calls, but can it save the world?

It might seem far stretched, but considering that poverty is often instigated by isolation and the accompanying lack of access to markets, emergency health services, education and governmental representation, it makes sense that economists are starting to pinpoint cell phones as a potential “weapon against global poverty.”

Renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs claims that “the cell phone is the single most transformative technology for development,” positing that providing developing countries with cell phones and widespread mobile network coverage can be instrumental in lifting regions out of poverty.

In the last 8 years, the United Nations Millenium Villages Project has aimed to improve 14 rural villages across 10 African countries by providing the framework for mobile connections. They have found that countries’ GDPs increased in a way that mirrors the nearly 400% increase in cell phone use in Africa over the last 5 years.

Kenya may be the poster child for the mobile movement with its tremendous GDP growth and innovative M-Pesa or “mobile-money” concept that has the country on an economic upswing. Researchers found that “70” was the magic number: 70% of the Kenyan population owned a cell phone while 70% of the population also reported no access to a bank. Hence, the concept of mobile-money was born.

Beginning in 2007 as a way to send people microloans, M-Pesa’s mobile-money became the main way to send money instantly from urban to rural areas. Mobile-money allows people to digitally transfer cash and utilize other banking services via mobile phones, thus facilitating trade and boosting business in a way that is vital for the country to thrive.

This mobile-money concept is great for Kenya’s large informal economy sector by releasing the flow of money that is often stagnant in developing countries with unstable infrastructures.

What’s more, cell phones are now the least expensive they have ever been, thanks to Safaricom, a Kenyan telecom provider that set up business models for selling services to the poor and thus made cell phone use more affordable. Thanks to the low cost of setting up mobile towers and the decreasing cost of cell phones, Kenya now may have more widespread cell phone coverage than many regions of Europe.

Some may argue that the best part about the cell phone solution is that businesses, rather than the government, drive the movement’s momentum. Having businesses like Safaricom at the center of the progress curbs the chance of corruption and unequal access that usually accompanies governmental initiatives, particularly in developing countries.

Other countries around the world are starting to take interest in the transformative power of the cell phone. From its success in Kenya, Safaricom is now bringing its mobile banking model to areas like Bangladesh, Uganda, and Gambia with the hope of expanding more in the future.

– Alexandra Bruschi
Source: CNN, Quartz
Photo: CNN

The use of mobile telephone in Africa has spread so rapidly that in 2001 mobile phones first outnumbered fixed lines, and by the end of 2012, 70% of Africa’s population was expected to have a cell phone. Communication has never been so easy and it has opened up new opportunities across the globe.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), in collaboration with technical partners, developed a low cost, user-friendly survey methodology that allows data to be collected using inexpensive and widely available cell phones.

The new system is called Rapid Mobile Phone-based survey (RAMP), which is sufficiently flexible to be used for a range of tasks in many fields. “We are now producing preliminary results within 24 hours and a full draft report of a survey within three days,” says Mac Otten, RAMP developer for IFRC. “This allows us to analyze the data quicker with the end result being that we can adapt interventions quicker to the needs of the most vulnerable.”

Recent results from a RAMP survey in the Kenya project are impressive: 90% of households own at least one net and net use is at 80%  for the total population. Net distribution, combined with a community approach to malaria treatment called the Home Management of Malaria project, demonstrates that empowering communities to respond comprehensively to malaria is part of the winning formula to beat the disease.

But malaria is not the only problem.

In Kenya, where 35% of children under five are stunted, 16% are underweight and, one Kenyan woman in 35 faces risk of maternal death, having the right information at the right time is vital to save the lives of both mothers and their children.

“There hasn’t been a nutrition survey in our project area for a long time,” says Mwanaisha Marusa Hamisi, Assistant Secretary General for Coast Province, Kenya Red Cross Society. “Although we knew nutrition was an issue, the information collected through RAMP will allow us to better target volunteer actions. We need to tackle specific attitudes and behaviours to achieve results.”

The project in Kenya is now moving towards comprehensive maternal and child health actions at the community level to provide broader health services closer to the people who need them most.

– Essee Oruma

Source: allAfrica

Could Cell Phones End Malaria?
Harvard epidemiologist Caroline Buckee has figured out a way to use a cell phone tower in Kericho, Kenya to help in the fight against malaria. She was able to interpret data showing that individuals who are making phone calls or sending text messages in Kericho were more likely to travel to a different region in Kenya, which is a known hotspot for Malaria.

This data has fed into a new set of predictive models. These models have shown the most effective places to attack the malaria parasite, showing researchers sources and hotspots. This data mining will help to organize a currently unorganized system of record keeping. The models may also help design new measures that are likely to include campaigns to send text messages to people warning them to use bed netting, as well as to help officials choose where to focus their control efforts.

Eliminating malaria is just one of the potential benefits of this technology. It can also build tools that health-care and government workers can use to detect and monitor epidemics, disasters, and optimize transportation systems. Data mining could prove particularly useful in poorer countries where there is currently little to no actual model in place.

This type of phone tracking could also be useful for other trends and figures such as employment trends, poverty, transportation and economic activity within a given region. Countries without a functioning census could benefit quite a bit from this type of technology. Cell phones have the capability to provide researchers with all of the infrastructures that are already built in the developed world.

Careful precautions are being taken to ensure an individual’s privacy is not infringed upon. However, this has not stopped many corporations from expressing concerns about releasing their customer’s data to the wrong hands.

Data-mining is handing a road map to a population’s movements and trends pinpointing them in given locations. Researchers, like Buckee are taking every step possible to show people the importance of data-mining. Buckee has explained that with phone data, the possibility to target drug-resistant strains of the malaria parasite becomes a possibility. This could help eliminate the proliferation of the disease.

“This is the future of epidemiology,” Buckee says. “If we are to eradicate malaria, this is how we will do it.”

– Caitlin Zusy
Source: Technology Review