Going Mobile

5 05 2011

We’re going mobile with our health info.  We’ll keep the websites and social media accounts we currently have, but once we find the funding (a daily mutterance in nonprofit offices worldwide), we’ll add access and tools for mobile users.

Researchers at the Pew Internet & American Life Project and the California Healthcare Foundation  studied mobile technology and found that 85% of American adults use a cell phone, with 17% of them having used their phones to look up health/medical info.  That figure goes up to 29% when we’re talking specifically about younger adults ages 18-29.

We want to stay connected to our audiences and make it easy for people to retrieve the information they need when they need it.  We believe that, just as the use of social media is embedded in the habits of Americans under the age of 30, so will be the use of mobile technology within a few years.  That’s where Americans are headed.  That’s where the world is headed.

A paragraph in the Mobile Health 2010 report reminds us of how social media usage was once talked about, as whispers of a changing reality, and now that reality is here.

“The ‘mobile difference,’ which Pew Internet first identified in 2009, is the observation that once someone has a wireless device, that person is more likely to use the internet to gather information, share information and create new content. These patterns are beginning to emerge in Americans’ pursuit of health information on mobile devices as well as traditional wired computers.”

These patterns will soon be the norm.  Where do you see your public health education dollars being spent over the next five years?

Photo credit: juhansonin





Safety on Facebook: Does it Exist?

19 05 2010

A cartoon of a child on a computer.Ever since MySpace and Facebook exploded into pop culture, parents, teachers, and other leaders have decried how easy it is for kids to get in over their heads enjoying the very things that make social networking fun: playing multiplayer games, sending party invitations, and browsing their nearby neighbors—all things that make it easy to meet new people.

Behind all the buzz and fun is the fact that kid-magnet social networks, like Facebook and MySpace, are also popular with those who seek to do kids harm.

In response, Facebook has unveiled a new Safety Center, its latest tool to fight abuse on the network.

The safety center is a portal to information, some of which is provided by Facebook and some of which is provided by other partners like Childnet International and Connect Safely. It seems to be an easier way to find answers to questions we’ve all had at one time or another.  For that reason alone it’s worth a mention, although there’s no “Golly!” factor at work.

The network was criticized in recent years for not doing enough to keep tabs on predators who had created accounts.

The Safety Center just answers some questions, it’s no substitute for the oversight only parents can provide—even if our kids think it’s a drag.

Here are some tips for helping your family stay safe online, courtesy of Julia Angwin at The Wall Street Journal:

Savvy parents should treat the Internet like an unsupervised playground. Set some rules and then stick around to make sure they’re enforced.

  • No chat rooms
  • Only instant message with people that kids know in real life
  • Immediately report any cyber-bullying (parents should then contact the parents of the perpetrator)
  • Never give out personal information online
  • Use web filtering software

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Share the Work to Reach the Goal

16 04 2010
A t-shirt advertising open source software.

Credit: Skype user “magerleagues"

If a piece of software or computer program is “open source,” that means that anybody can access the program’s code, make updates, and share it with others. Firefox is a well-known program that’s open source.

Nobody “owns” the program, and maintenance of these programs, which are usually free to consumers, is handled by a community of enthusiasts around the world.

Scientists, inspired by this hive-minded work style, have begun imitating the approach in their own research. Networked together by technology, researchers from around the world combine their efforts in pursuit of a common goal, as in the Human Genome Project and the Tropical Disease Initiative.

The Open Source Drug Discovery Foundation, a project spearheaded by India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, is using this same approach to combat neglected diseases including malaria, leishmaniasis, and target number one―tuberculosis― which affect millions around the world.

The leaders of OSDD say that finding relief for people suffering from such diseases is up to them, because drug companies won’t put big money into this kind of research, since it would be difficult to recoup their investment.

So, how does it work? Members of the project donate their time and contribute their findings online. They hold discussions and pose questions. They share ideas. And it’s not just a group of established scientists—students are participating in the process as well. And everyone is focusing on a different aspect of the research: some are analyzing the genome of the bacteria that causes TB, while others might be researching existing patents for TB medicines.

Members are given credit for their contributions and are free to use the information in their own works and writings.

Project Director Zakir Thomas says that solving problems as a united group is “immensely motivational.” The fight against tuberculosis is a personal fight for many of the participants from India, where tuberculosis is a huge problem.

But, not everyone is sold on the project’s open source approach. Problems have appeared. How will the government provide the enormous amounts of money required to produce a drug and deliver it to the people who need it? Why would a company sponsor a clinical trial for a drug to which they would not have the rights? Many of the drug manufacturing companies in India specialize in producing generic drugs, not creating new ones.

Time will tell if India’s government will come through with the funding and a company will sponsor the clinical trials. If this process succeeds, it could fundamentally alter how scientists in the rest of the world research neglected diseases. And, who knows, perhaps all diseases.

Let’s hope it catches on.

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