Recently we discussed the value of the website for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria as an advocacy tool to get financial, policy and programmatic support for malaria programs. During a recent visit to Kenya I learned that for many NGOs and front line health service staff the internet is a dream at best. Members of civil society organizations complained that it is only those in a well financed NGOs based in the capital who can browse and receive email communication about the latest developments and thus be in a good position to act on new grants and information. This was reiterated by a key development partner who warned that we in the international development community and the national health and development agencies tend to forget that few people can or do access information about malaria funding and technical information through the internet.
The website, Internet World Statistics, helps make this problem graphically clear. Overall only 3.6% of people in African use the internet compared to 20.2% worldwide. In continental Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa takes the lead at 10.3% while DRC and Ethiopia are lowest at 0.2%. Some of the isalnd nations where mosquitoes and malaria are more easily controlled have internet usage approaching world averages.
One assumes that with the wealth of free information on the internet, though obviously some of questionable quality that the internet would be a most valuable resource for health program planners. In Nigeria we learned that the digital divide seen between Africa and the rest of the world in the attached chart also extends within countries. In southwest Nigeria we found that staff of NGOs were 50% more likely than those of government health agencies to have access to a computer and to browse the internet.
There are a large number of free malaria e-mailings that go out frequently to subscribers. Most helpful is the weekly summary of malaria news and scientific articles from the Roll Back Malaria partnership. Even in Africa AMANET sends out an e-mail newsletter. Africa Fighting Malaria is another group that puts out regular news summaries. But these are of little value if one does not have reliable internet access.
Part of development assistance in the war against malaria therefore, needs to include internet access to government and NGO staff in Sub-Saharan Africa as a major component of its armament. This will enable African malaria workers to be on top of the latest developments and access the information and funds they need to succeed against this killer disease.