Living in the developed world, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a new mobile phone. A quick search on a price comparison website and we can take our pick from hundreds of mobile deals. The use of mobile phones in less developed countries is also growing fast, with almost 70% of mobile phone subscribers now living in these countries . The advent of recycled and low cost phones has led to millions being connected in ways they never could have imagined.
Text messaging is a widespread phenomenon across both wealthy and poorer nations. In a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, an average of 75% people in the 21 countries surveyed said they used their phones to text. The Pew study found that text messaging was more prevalent in poorer countries such as Indonesia (96%) and Kenya (89%). Only 56% of Germans regularly send texts, a notable drop from the 70% of western European mobile users who do. Social networking seems to be usurping text messaging in developed countries, which enjoy high rates of Internet access and state-of-the-art smart phones. Since most mobile phone users in developing countries use older handsets, the text message is cheap and accessible medium of choice when it comes to communication.
The humble text is proving to be far more than a straightforward communication tool. Individuals and organizations in developing countries are harnessing the power of this simple technology to promote development objectives, create economic opportunities and strengthen social networks. Frontline SMS is one example – a free software programme that enables users to send, receive and manage text messages with groups of people through mobile phones. It is being used to report on notoriously under-reported crimes such as trafficking and violence in West Africa.
The global counterfeit drug trade is rife in developing countries, and the impact on consumers is potentially disastrous. SMS is combating this by allowing the buyer to send a text containing a code displayed on the packaging to the drug company, which then confirms if the drug is legitimate. It’s a simple and effective way of protecting consumers from the dangers of counterfeit drugs.
A growing body of research suggests that text messaging is having a positive impact on healthcare delivery in less developed nations. Many communities in Africa live in rural areas with minimal healthcare provision and now the text message is being exploited to deliver home-based care. Patients can communicate with health practitioners via text without having to spend their time and scarce resources to appear at the clinic. They can enquire about any drug side effects that they may be experiencing and receive advice, medication and appointment reminders, something that is crucial for those suffering from terminal illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and cancer.
Text messaging is cheap and easy to use, with low bandwidth requirements and is supported by all mobile phones. It makes the sharing of knowledge and information easier and more effective, and continues to have potentially far-reaching implications for developing countries.