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Google and Grameen Use Existing and Emerging Mobile Communications Infrastructure to Increase Access to Healthcare

Google and Grameen Use Existing and Emerging Mobile Communications Infrastructure to Increase Access to Healthcare

One of the most insidious conflicts in international health is the tension between providing realistic solutions based on available resources (sometimes called 'appropriate technologies') and the sentiment expressed to Paul Farmer by a Haitian priest: “Do you know what “appropriate technology” means? It means good things for rich people and shit for the poor” (Infections and Inequalities, 21). There is a constant struggle between developing scalable technologies that will effectively improve health in low-income countries and falling into the trap of developing second-rate solutions for the world’s poor.

[Google](http://google.com) and the Grameen Foundation are working hard to develop impactful, scalable technologies that build on available infrastructure. The technologies they are jointly pioneering are also ones that will become more robust when information networks become larger and more dynamic: creating systems that will become moot or redundant in the rapid-cycle internet age is a major pitfall of information technology systems.

The Grameen Foundation, in partnership with Google, has developed and released the [AppLab](http://www.grameenfoundation.applab.org/section/index) (Application Laboratory) that provides essential information-based services via basic mobile phones. Along with a farmer-to farmer information exchange and an agricultural trading network, Grameen and Google have developed Clinic Finder. “The Clinic Finder" offers a directory providing the details of local clinics, including the types of services offered as well as the hours of operation. This searchable directory makes it easier for users to find appropriate medical assistance.” AppLab Uganda leverages MTN Uganda’s network of over 10,000 Village Phone Operators to test and deliver mobile information services to rural communities.

The ClinicFinder application is part of a suite of services: Google SMS Tips, Google SMS Search, and Google Trader. Each are a premium service, with varying costs. “Google SMS Tips (targeting low-income, rural users primarily) = 110shs per sms, Google SMS Search (urban, mainstream) = 220 shs per sms, and Google Trader (all users) = 220shs once the free period is over.”

In countries like Uganda, it is estimated that…mobile phone subscriptions have increased by 1700 percent between 2002 and 2008; the mobile phone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants in 2002 was 1.51, and that of 2008 was 27.2 (ITU, 2008). Leveraging the penetration of SMS-enabled phones is a powerful information source.

It is interesting to note that this service was developed not out of Google.org but out of Google Africa's commercial business offerings.

As a side note, see an interesting recent article on the 'nice versus nasty' distinction in the world of [appropriate technology](http://worldpoliticsblog.wordpress.com/2010/06/).

1- [PTech Magazine](http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCkQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fpctechmagazine.com%2Findex.php%3Foption%3Dcom_docman%26task%3Ddoc_download%26gid%3D10%26Itemid%3D151&ei=HOc8UP2mJoaZ0QHBpoCQCw&usg=AFQjCNFvRHHjTW8RrU6qu5D84w5945YA_w&sig2=ceFgtPv86iDX7aq7M5yK2A)
2- [PTech Magazine](http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCkQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fpctechmagazine.com%2Findex.php%3Foption%3Dcom_docman%26task%3Ddoc_download%26gid%3D10%26Itemid%3D151&ei=HOc8UP2mJoaZ0QHBpoCQCw&usg=AFQjCNFvRHHjTW8RrU6qu5D84w5945YA_w&sig2=ceFgtPv86iDX7aq7M5yK2A)
3- http://www.pctechmagazine.com/articles-summary/38-cover-story/83-mobile-phones-in-health-care-in-sub-saharan-africa-the-case-of-applab-uganda

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