How PDAs can Transform Emerging Economies

A few months back, Dr. Joel Selanikio, co-founder of (a UN Foundation-Vodafone partnership) wrote in to explain how PDAs are saving lives in Africa. At the time, Selanikio was concluding a pilot program that distributed Palm Ziros equipped with open source software called EpiSurveyor to public health workers in Kenya and Zambia. As Selanikio reported, the PDAs had a transformative effect on the ability of local public health officials to efficiently distribute immunizations and monitor potentially catastrophic outbreaks.

That experience obviously made clear to Selanikio the potential of PDAs to not only revolutionize the public health sector in the developing world, but to transform entire emerging economies. Selanikio explains in an op-ed picked up by All

Along with the internet, with which it is rapidly merging, this is the most astonishing technology story of our time, and one that has the power to revolutionise access to information across the developing world.

Unfortunately, rich country biases limit understanding of this amazing phenomenon: for those in North America or Western Europe the cell phone is primarily or uniquely a phone designed to make voice calls.

In the rich world, even those who use the mobile for other tasks such as e-mail almost always do so as an adjunct to their “computer” (ie, the desktop or laptop in their home or office): the mobile phone is used for those tasks only when the “computer” isn’t accessible.

Selanikio explains how that ‘bias’ becomes manifest, “as of this morning a Google search for ‘educational software for Windows’ got 41,300 results, while a search for ‘educational software for cell phones’ got exactly 9 hits.”