For some time now I have been interested in how cell phones can be used to share health care resources and information with health professionals in developing countries, especially midwives. It has been my personal observation that cell phones are ubiquitous, even in countries like Pakistan. And my view has been that they are a wonderful way to opening up communication with people who would otherwise be cut off from professional communities in the Western World.
In my role as convener of the Virtual International Day of the Midwife I have been keen to turn the recordings of the sessions into files that can be downloaded onto cell phones. I have made the assumption that this would be a more effective way to targeting midwives in developing countries than via the Internet.
But my recent trip to Vanuatu has shown a different side to cell phones.
Every where I went there were signs advertising Digicel cell phones - every few feet is a booth selling cell phone re-charge vouchers. What I was told has happened is up to recently Vanautu was a barter economy. I bartered one cabbage with you for half a dozen coconuts. No one was rich, but no one starved. Now everyone wants a cell phone. Young people are often given free cell phones, which is just fine until they need to be topped up. And to do that...you need money. So now the economy has changed and young people especially are looking at ways to make money which is difficult in this very poor country. And needless to say, one way of making money is by turning to crime.
I am not saying that cell phones are to blame for Vanuatu's crime. But in my naivety, I hadn't thought of the issues that cell phones bring and their wider impact on society.