Healthcare and the Digital Divide in Africa

As we start to study the Oobunta Healthcare case study for the ITGS Health topic, it is a good idea to improve our background understanding of the situation in Africa. As in many developing countries, the digital divide in some African countries is significant; and as in many countries this divide is probably not as we initially expect it to be.


I imagine the fictional East African city of Oobunta in the case study to be similar to Nairobi in Kenya or Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, so studying the divide in these countries can provide us some useful background material.Language, literacy, economics, and environmental challenges all play a role in the digital divide, and the BBC has a great called Connected Africa, which looks at precisely these issues.

Another great resource is the CIA World Factbook, which includes many statistics relevant to ITGS, including literacy rates, languages, population distribution, and mobile phone penetration rates. In pictures: Nairobi’s digital divide is a good visual resource

Internet connectivity in Africa

In previous posts I have shown maps of Africa’s Internet backbone capability, which is developing constantly. The map below shows the latest situation.

Africa fibre optic cable map
African underseas cables (Source: Many Possibilities)

The BBC has a good video about the construction of the African Internet backbone which lands in Mombasa, Kenya and has helped bring broadband to Kenya and surrounding countries. World Internet Stats also has some very useful information about Internet access in Africa, which shows that despite this, there are still huge disparities across the continent.

How might this affect Oobunta?
Internet connectivity is clearly a major issue for Oobunta – not only in terms of availability, but also in terms of bandwidth.This graph shows the typical bandwidth requirements for various Internet applications. By cross-referencing this with what we already know about the speed of typical Internet connections (dial-up, cable/DSL, WiMax, and fibre optic), we can get a better idea of what can be achieved in Oobunta. Does Dr Ogola want to implement video conferencing as a method of tele-medicine? He will struggle with a dial-up connection…

With high bandwidth Internet access so difficult to acquire in Oobunta, perhaps Dr Ogola can leverage alternative, existing technologies to achieve his dream of better healthcare. SMS text messages have already been used to tackle HIV in South Africa, provide prenatal care in Kenya, and to encourage smokers in New Zealand to quit.

In the graph below we can clearly see the phenomenal growth of mobile phone subscriptions in Africa in the early part of this century –  and these figures are four years old.

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