Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Tech Times | Tech for the Poor - For a change, poor people are getting early benefits from new advances

Published:Monday | August 8, 2016 | 8:00 AM

Historically, industrial revolutions haven't been kind to poor people. If technology wasn't putting people out of work, it was endangering them through hazardous working environments or long-term exposure to pollutants. Even today, there is evidence that technology-driven economies are favouring a small group of individuals and exacerbating inequality.

But now we are seeing a different story. Not only are the world's poorest having their lives radically improved by technological advances, but, in some cases, they are actually the first to benefit.

Take civilian drones. Despite much talk about gimmicky applications like drone-delivered pizza, the real potential lies in transporting medical supplies. A number of companies are working on this in the United States but have been held back by regulations. In Rwanda, however, the government recently announced a new nationwide delivery service that will use drones to deliver time-critical emergency medical supplies, such as blood and rabies vaccines, to the country's remotest regions.

Cell phone users in New York use satellite-based systems to find the nearest Starbucks. In Africa and Asia the same technology plays a vital role in eradicating polio. One reason some children miss out on vaccinations is that they live quite literally off the map. So the World Health Organization uses geographic information systems to identify settlements in high-risk areas and plan vaccination campaigns.

During the Ebola epidemic, Oxford Nanopore's pocket-sized genetic sequencing technology was used in the field in Guinea to sequence the virus within 24 hours. Such technology could track the spread of future epidemics in the poorest corners of the world.

The most transformative technology of all is the cell phone. By 2007, there were more cell-phone subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa than people with access to sanitation. Today, there are more than 850 million subscribers across the continent. Phone-based technology is helping to create digital health records, track medical supply levels, improve supply chains, and map areas already covered by vaccination.

There is potential to do much more. One in five children still doesn't receive a full course of even the most basic vaccines. Some 1.5 million children die every year from vaccine-preventable diseases. Technology can help us change that.

- MIT Technology Review