A few months ago I posted a link to Nick Kristof writing about fistulas in the Times (I didn’t bother to link to it since they charge for their archives, the plutocrats). Fistulas are a little known condition that affect young women, usually poor and African, who give birth without the aid of health workers or doctors. Because the women are very young and lack adequate medical help, the babies are often stillborn and sit in their birth canal for too long, causing tears in their intestines or urethras. The result is very bad incontinence that leaves them stinking, ostracized from their communities, and very often abandoned by their husbands.

There’s a great article in the Times today about this, with an accompanying slideshow. I read it as I was thinking about work I’m planning to do on the Internet, and how and why we should bridge the digital divide in America and abroad. Over the next couple of months I’ll be looking into Clinton’s promise of technology for everyone and how plausible it is to bring developing communities around the world, and working class communities here in the states, into the technological fold. The challenges are great; we must get these communities access to computers and an Internet connection and then teach them how to use the technologies. At the same time we must teach people — media literacy — so that they understand why this technology is so important.

Or is it? Do I think technology is so necessary simply because it appeals to me? Maybe developing nations need other things first, like enough doctors to treat fistula cases in Niger and and Mozambique, where there are a total of nine surgeons currently fit to do so. Are we blinded by the promise of technology so much that we miss the importance of solving basic, day-to-day health problems?

There’s no simple answer, of course. It is necessary to ensure that people in Africa, and in our own country, are healthy before anything else. But once we do that, we need to find ways to help them become their own agents, armed with the health and knowledge that empower them to bring positive change to their regions.

Access to technology is certainly a part of that, I think. Not hooking up African villagers with a few iPod nanos, but making sure local school districts and libraries have working, online computers is important, teaching kids how to use the Internet, and introducing the idea of social networking can be a big step forward.

Still, don’t you think Mozambique could use a couple more surgeons?

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