Open Source, Global Health and Information Systems in West Africa

This piece originally appeared on the IntraHealth International Blog
The West African Health Organization (WAHO), WHO, the University of Oslo, Health Metrics Network (HMN) and the IntraHealth International-led USAID-funded CapacityPlus project have joined forces to organize an “unconference” in Accra, Ghana, next week to strengthen health information systems capacity throughout West Africa. Additional partners include the Kofi Annan Center of Excellence in Information-Communications Technology (ICT) and the region’s ministries of health.
“The absence of accurate, readily available health information is one of the greatest challenges in West Africa” notes Professor Kayode Odusote of WAHO. “Using open source technologies to foster innovation, adaptability and ownership of health information systems can save countless lives.”
An unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference designed to avoid some of the downsides of a conventional conference, especially high fees and sponsored proprietary presentations.
“We can increase in-country and regional capacity using mature and interoperable open-source software while fostering a developer community,” says Carl Leitner of IntraHealth, who will be running an installfest and training sessions at the event.
The gathering, which will be held September 20–24, will bring together decision-makers, health information system (HIS) managers, ICT support staff from the region, developers of open source software for HIS, and other stakeholders involved in HIS strengthening activities.
“Wide participation is essential to ensure that research, development, and implementation of health information systems can be driven by local forces.  Country empowerment is only a part of the puzzle, the best systems are created by involving users as active developers,” states Johan Saebø of HMN.
The five-day technical meeting will focus on open source core software solutions that address specific health worker challenges including:
  • iHRIS:  a suite of open source tools for managing and supporting the health workers
  • DHIS2: an open source system for collecting and analyzing health information for national planning and decision making
  • OpenMRS:  an open source medical record and clinical care health system.
“We see this as a launching pad for ongoing locally designed unconferences across Africa supporting local capacity and community building around open source technology for global health,” explains Heather LaGarde who oversees IntraHealth’s OPEN Initiative, a coalition aimed at building technological fluency, local capacity and innovation in open source systems for health in the developing world.
O’Reilly Media has supported this conference by generously donating many books on using Linux, Ubuntu, and open-source software.
Contact: Brooke Buchanan (919)433-5700 bbuchanan@intrahealth.org

Celebrating Software Freedom Day in Ghana

This press release below is from AITI-KACE concerning the upcoming Software Freedom Day Celebrations in Ghana

Celebrating Software Freedom Day 2010 in Ghana!

We are proud to announce that the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT (AITI-KACE) in collaboration with the FLOSSInclude Project will again be hosting a special event on Saturday, September 18th under the theme “Knowing the alternative software solutions”. The venue for this year’s celebrations is the AITI-KACE premises and the time is 9:30 – 15:00. This is the biggest international celebration and outreach event for Software Freedom globally involving hundreds of teams from all around the world.

In an increasingly digital age, more and more of our everyday experiences depend upon software. Software influences how we interact with each other, enjoy different media, get paid, and even navigate our roads. Software underpins our very way of life, our basic freedoms such as freedom of association, freedom of thought, freedom of choice and much more, yet many people do not realize the importance and influence of software and other technologies on their lives.

What do we mean by Software Freedom? Software Freedom is about a technology future that we can trust, that is sustainable, and that doesn’t negatively impact on the basic human freedoms we take for granted. For instance, spyware is a software that monitors what we listen to, our banking details and who we email. This software can be installed on our computers without our knowledge. Proprietary data formats can mean lockout to accessing your own information! Software Freedom can be maintained by transparent systems (such asFree and Open Source Software – FOSS) that are based on open, secure and sustainable standards including data formats and communications protocols.

Software Freedom Day is a yearly celebration of Software Freedom and why it is important; our purpose is public education about these important issues which we believe will eventually ensure that all barriers to the use and deployment of software are eliminated.

The AITI-KACE and its partners have been celebrating Software Freedom Day for a number of year and we have had many members of the general public and IT Community participate through the doors. We would like those that have attended or are attending for the first time to bring a friend along. Share with us the possibilities. Come and see demonstrations of open source software to suit just about every usage that you might think of. Take home some ideas, and CDs/DVDs full of software that you can use straight away.

People in the Eastern Region of Ghana can also join the Computer Science Department at the Koforidua Polytechnic to celebrate the day.

AITI-KACE is located near Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), adjacent to the Council of State Building on 2nd Avenue, Ridge, Accra.

Members of the media are invited to cover the event.

Contacts : Fred Yeboah – Tel 0302 679542-4 or e-mail: fredericky@aiti-kace.com.gh

This post originally appeared on The Gamelian World via Gamelmag

Show your love for Ubuntu Lucid Lynx- Donate a FREE CD today!

Come tomorrow the 29th of April, the Lucid Lynx will be officially released. To most of you, downloading the ISO will be just a matter of minutes. However, have you ever thought of the less fortunate people in other parts of the world who do not enjoy the internet the same way you do? 

Yes there are people that downloading the 700MB ISO is a great challenge. Now did you also know that you can help such people enjoy the latest and almost greatest piece of software the Open Source world has to offer? Yes you can by simply pledging to send out a FREE Ubuntu Lucid Lynx ISO to someone in Africa who for one reason or the other cannot get their hands on tomorrows talk of the day. 

This is how it works. You pledge voluntarily to send out a FREE Lucid CD to anyone on the African continent who cannot download. All you have to do is head over to the CD donation forum to add yourself to our esteemed donors. When someone makes a request for a CD, we will get in touch with you personally to find out if shipping one to that person will be convenient to you taking lots of factors into consideration. 

Should you agree to send one out, we will then furnish you with the name and mailing address of the person for onward shipping of the CD. You can also mail the CDs directly to us for giving out. Simple as that. In case you are wondering what happened to Canonical’s Shipit program, please be aware that for every CD request that we receive, we will ascertain from the one requesting whether they have tried to get one directly from Canonical itself before looking up to us. Since that program does not and cannot ship to everyone, why not have the Ubuntu community itself step in?

So please spend no more time. Head over to OMG Africa! and start sending out a CD today. For more information, please contact us and we will be more than happy to address your queries. Go on and show some love to the Lynx in a Lucid way. Go on.

OMG Africa!- African Writers wanted for hiring

As part of our drive to help improve the lives of Africans through the use of Free and Open Source Software, I am happy to announce that the OMG Africa! Project is seeking highly motivated writers from all over the continent to act as ambassadors for the project in their respective countries.

You will be a contributing author on this blog and will be responsible for providing unique insights into how people use technology in their day to day lives in your country and how FOSS can be introduced to such people. You will be expected to write at least 3 posts in a week and also be willing to record/shoot videos for our upcoming podcasts. Having your own tech related blog will be a great advantage though not required.

It is a very exciting time for me personally as we try to help ourselves on this continent through the power of information and communication technology. I look forward to having reps from all 52 countries that make up this continent. For more details about available compensation plans and how to get started, please get in touch with us via email at omgafricaproject at gmail dot com.

Alternatively, you can contact us through Twitter or Facebook. This offer is opened for a short period only so please hurry up and make a move to join what will be Africa’s biggest online tech community. Join us today and make a difference.

How do you dispose off your old computer hardware?

The general fall in the prices of new computers relative to some years ago means a rise in demand and consequently, an increase in the number of used ones too. I am wondering how you dispose off your old computer hardware. 

After spending your hard earned bucks to acquire that shiny new box, what normally happens to your old one? Where do you dispose off it? Do you think it can be used again? Would you mind donating your old hardware to somebody you do not know?

Have you ever thought of where your disposed off computer hardware ends up? Do you believe even your old hardware can make a difference in the lives of people you may never know? I’d really love to hear your views and experiences which will go a long way to help us at the OMG Africa! Project finalize our strategic plans.

The Linux-Vendor Factors- Part of the FOSS adoption problems in Africa

Yesterday we took quite a detailed look at a first hand account of some environmental factors that stand in the way of Linux adoption in Africa. Today, I’d like us to take a look at the second group of obstacles which we called the Linux-vendor factors.
Unlike Windows, Linux is a heavily networked OS where one needs internet connection to do things like application installation. This very factor is one of the greatest deterrents to the use of Linux here. How do you get people to use it when they have no reliable and affordable internet connection?
With Windows, when I need an application, all I have to do is get its .exe file from a friend and I’m good to go. No network fuss whatsoever. The heavy dependence of Linux on network connectivity may not seem that much of a problem, but in reality, it could be a crucial factor in its acceptance here.
Then there is the issue of vendor inactivity. What I mean here is that I am of the view that vendors behind the popular Linux distros, ala Canonical, RedHat amongst others are not doing enough to help bring Linux to Africa. It would go a long way to help if we should see the likes of the above companies having people on the ground here who will be lending support to small scale businesses who choose to go the Linux way.
I know running a business in Europe or the US is more easy and comfortable as compared to ‘that’ continent called Africa. If only these vendors know the vastness of the untapped market we have here, they would not think twice about getting on the ground here.
Bringing Linux to Africa is no small task giving the almost insurmountable obstacles that one is bound to face. However, there is still a great potential for Open Source Software in general and Linux in particular to add tremendous value to the lives of people here. It is to this end that we should all focus upon irrespective of the bottlenecks we face.
And it is also for this reason that I strongly encourage all of you to support the OMG Africa! Linux Project in whatever way you can. If you cannot be here to spread FOSS, then the least you can do is to support those of us living here who are trying to do it.

The adoption and use of Linux in Africa- A detailed African perspective

My last article about spreading Linux here in Africa and other developing places seemed to have sparked off some interesting debate about what really hinders the spreading of FOSS in general and Linux in particular on this continent. FOSS blogging giants like Mr Glyn Moody are among those that added their voices to the debate.
For the sake of clarity, I would like us to take a detailed look (from the perspective of an African living in Africa) at what I strongly and sincerely believe are obstacles to the adoption and use of Free and Open Source Software. For ease of reading, I would be dividing this article into 2 parts – the environmental factors and the software/vendor factors. For the sake of simplicity, I would also be using my country Ghana as a microcosm for the African continent.
The Environmental Factors
These are factors that are mostly out of the control of everyday people. They are factors that militate against the general development of information and communication technology. They can be broken down as follows
Infrastructure
The infrastructure on which a vibrant ICT network can be built is itself virtually nonexistent or are out of date. Talk of telephone lines, and I mean fixed lines. Those are slowly but surely being obliterated by the popularity of mobile networks. However, it must be noted that at the end of the day, no serious communication technology can thrive on mobile networks because they are hugely expensive as compared to fixed lines (at least over here). Then too we can talk of electricity supply which is more erratic than an epileptic seizure. It will be a big grace to you should you succeed in having power supply for one whole month without some nonsensical, unannounced interruption. And to date there still are places that do not even have power supply at all. 
Bandwidth
Directly flowing from the fist point is the issue of bandwidth. Today, mobile internet is the largest source of internet connectivity for majority of the people. However, using such a means as a primary source of internet connectivity can be very expensive. If you have a 1GB bandwidth quota per month, how much of that will you be willing to dedicate to installing updates or software packages or even to download a 700MB ISO image?
Cost of hardware
Over the last decade, the cost of computers have drastically reduced. But, it is important to put cost here into proper context. The computers I am talking about are the mostly discarded ones from the advanced countries which are more of electronic waste than usable items to me. As an example, about 7 years ago, the cost of an Intel Pentium 2 machine with 128MB Ram and 20GB HDD was roughly 400-500 US Dollars. Today, the same machine can be bought for about a $100. But in all sincerity, how many of you will be happy to use such a machine in the context of todays increasingly powerful computers?
Now even such ‘cheap’ prices are beyond the means of a greater number of people. The laptop which I use was bought for $910 in 2008 and guess the specs, a 2Ghz Intel Celeron Processor with 512MB of Ram and 80GB of HDD. Funny right? Yea. The simple point worth noting here is that in todays context, the prices of computers are still very expensive and are out of the reach of a majority of the people. 
Knowledge
If the majority of the population is unlettered, how do you expect them to use computers in the first place. Sure I know even in the US, most educated people don’t know much about ICT. But teaching such people is easier than unlettered ones. Then there is the almost total lack of knowledge outside the Microsoft-Windows-MSCE-MS Office world of computing. Let me site an example. Last week I walked into an internet cafe and the following ensued between me and an attendant there
Me: Hi, do you have a wired connection where I can use on my lappy to download the wireless driver?
Attendant: What OS do you use?
Me: Oh its Ubuntu. I am running the beta release aka Lucid Lynx. 
Attendant: {Grins broadly} Come on man, those are old and out of date OSs. The trend now is Vista [shudder] and 7. Why are you running a server on your lappy or what?
Me: {Stunned, don’t know what to say} Ah. No. Ok Don’t worry. I will come back. Let me check at the other place. Thanks anyway.
Can you actually believe that? This is an attendant who is supposed to shepherd people that come to the cafe. Then too I have seen only one Linux certification course being offered by a computer training school here. On their poster I saw SUSE Linux Admin and called to find out more. I was told they had put that course on hold for now because they were not having enough people register for it. Hm. Now ask about Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and see the response. Of course I have not been to all the computer training schools here, but this one is a major player and the biggest. How can you expect something that is virtually unknown to a people to gain any significant traction with them?
The four factors above are what I call the broad environmental factors that impede or are likely to impede the use and adoption of FOSS in general and Linux in particular here on the African continent. Some of these factors as I said in the beginning are beyond the control of any individual, some too are not. In the next article, I would entreat you to join me in discussing what I call the software/vendor obstacles to the success of FOSS in Africa. If you are an African, please join the discussion by sharing your personal opinion of what you think are the obstacles.

Electronic waste menace in Africa- Open Source to the rescue.

There has been a lot of concern about the level of electronic junk and garbage that is flooding into Africa. Most of these junk waste comprise  used computers and accessories. They are  mostly from the advanced countries where the pace of technological change is way beyond that of Africa. 
Virtually all African governments are not sure of how to contain this dumping of garbage in their countries. They are caught between the desire to promote ICT education among their populace through the use of the cheap computers that come in and the hue and cry from the environmentalist about the harm such was is causing to the continents environment. It is indeed a difficult position for any government to be in.
Most African countries are now setting up community driven ICT centers where places are put up and furnished with computers (mostly those that are brought in from the West as waste) for a given village or community to use. However, most of these initiatives normally do not get far due to the relatively high overhead cost of running the computers. It is needless to point out the cost to be incurred in running a pirated (that is what we can afford) copy of Microsoft Windows XP on a computer that was designed for Windows 95 and 98.
Most of the used computers that are brought into Africa virtually end up on the rubbish dump site because most people just cannot get it to run the resource hog of an OS called Windows. It is in this regard that I strongly believe African governments can make some gains from the electronic  “waste” that comes in by looking to very easy, cheap and powerful software alternatives called Open Source .
A computer is not complete without the needed software to run it. If you have the computer and do not have a compatible software, then you still  cannot use it. So if the computers are too old such that running Windows on them is nigh impossible, why not try Free and Open Source OS like Ubuntu   Linux and Fedora. Ubuntu for instance can run on very old hardware with memory as low as 128MB. 
Such resource efficient, powerful and free Linux OS can breath fresh life into computers that otherwise would be written off as dead. So in my view, if African governments really want to make some sense of the environmental situation they are facing, then I think educating people and putting in measures to promote resource efficient softwares will go a long way to help.
All that needs to be done would be to refurbish the used computers and install the free softwares like Ubuntu and Open Office on them.  Giving the old computers a new life through Open Source and Free software will help cut down on environmental degradation, improve people’s access to ICT , create employment for those who will do the refurbishing and educate the young and next generation about better and free alternatives to Microsoft’s resource hog and expensive products.
With Open Source, it is a win win situation. Share your thoughts.

Africa- A Fertile ground for Open Source and Linux.

I believe the Open Source Movement in general and Linux in particular stand a chance of getting entrenched in Africa due to some reasons that I will espouse shortly. It is up to companies like Canonical and other global FOSS leaders to take advantage of the global economic crisis and a slide in the fortune of Microsoft to entrench themselves especially here in Africa.

Over here, due to our low incomes and low technological penetration, most of our softwares are pirated and our IT hardware are mostly outdated and substandard. There are some exceptions though, but that is the case with the majority of IT users here. This is where I think projects like Ubuntu can make a head way. Due to its low resource usage and ability to run on very old computers, it is just a matter of embarking on an education campaign to introduce it to the masses here.

Also, most businesses here in Africa do not simply know that there is an alternative to MS Windows and they simply get locked up with high overhead costs of maintaining Windows run enterprise network. Even those who know of Linux and Free Software have never thought of it as a viable alternative to Windows due to the perception of Linux being for geeks alone.

Again, I strongly believe that if basic schools here can be introduced to ICT using Open Source software, it will go a long way into helping create an awareness among the next generation of IT users in Africa that there is a very powerful, reliable and free alternative to MS and other closed source commercial applications. 

Then there is the issue of African governments trying to modernize their IT resource bases. This is also another great opportunity for FOSS evangelists to lobby hard for the governments to opt for Open Source and Free Software to save money on both licenses and hardware costs since it costs more to run MS Windows on a unit of computer than it costs running an OS like Ubuntu on the same unit of computer.

There is  some progress being made in terms of evangelizing  Open Source  and Ubuntu to Africa and Africans. Examples can be seen here,  and here. I was also really happy when I heard of another project aimed at bringing FOSS to young basic school pupils in rural parts of Africa called Rural Internet Kiosks.

There is a great opportunity to grow FOSS in Africa and its up to we those who believe in Foss to take advantage of it. Comments and opinions are welcome.

TEN REASONS WHY AFRICANS SHOULD TRY UBUNTU LINUX.

In my post yesterday, I had some complaints about Linux and its ability to take on Microsoft’s Windows OS due to its heavy reliance on the terminal and much technical jargon that scares away the average user. Today however, I intend touching on some ten reasons why in my view, despite Linux’s set backs, it is still worth a try especially by my African brothers and sisters. The distro I am going to base my assertions on is the Ubuntu Linux variant (thats my primary OS) all the assertions are equally applicable to other distros too.

FREE FROM VIRUSES
Linux if free from viruses and other malware, trojans and rootkits that infect Windows systems on a daily basis. This is because of the authorization management system used. When you install Windows, your account is automatically given administrative powers. You have almost total control of the system and can easily tweak it. Ubuntu Linux however is not like that. When you make an installation of Ubuntu, two sets of accounts are created. You the user’s account is given limited authority over the system. Only the root account has full access to the system. So any time you have to do something that requires an administrative power, you would have to enter your password to certify to the system that you really are the one authorizing the task. Thus no virus can infect in the system without asking for your password. The kernel moreover, is built from ground up to be resistant to viruses.

Also. because the Linux kernel is an Open Source project, it is under the watch of thousands of programmers from all over the world and thus anything that looks the least suspicious is quickly discovered and weeded out.

FREE
Why use a pirated software when you can have a very secure, reliable and great one for free. And by free I mean free as in both free beer and free drink. All you need to get Ubuntu is just go to the Ubuntu site and download. That’s it. If you don’t have a fast internet access, just ask Ubuntu to ship one to you and they will be glad to. Most of the Windows softwares that are used here in Africa are  I believe pirated since i doubt the average African can cough up about  $300 to pay for a license. So just go ahead and get your copy of Ubuntu for free.

MASSIVE SOFTWARE REPOSITORIES
There is a massive repository of softwares in Ubuntu. And by massive I mean over 25000 applications that you can install on your system for free. When you need any software, all you have to do is to go to Add/Remove software, search for what you want and just click apply and you are good to go. No need to Google and scour the internet for anything. You have everything at your finger tips. All you have to do is install. And they are all free of charge.

NO DEFRAGMENTATION
De-fragmentation basically means the sectors in which your system and programs are installed gets scattered. So when you tell your system to perform a task for you, it would have to take time to look for all the pieces of the command you issued it. This slows your system down very much over time. Ubuntu, on the other hand, does not experience such issues due to it’s very organized and systematic way of handling system and program files.

GIVE YOUR OLD PC A NEW LIFE.
You don’t need up to 2Gb of Ram and 15Gb of  HDD space to optimally run an OS. Ubuntu can run and perform well even on a system with just 128 Mb of Ram. So why buy a new PC when you can still use your old one?

SUPERB SUPPORT
Ubuntu Linux users have a superb support system made up of the users themselves.  The Ubuntu Forum is in my view one of the most superb forums on the internet. Just post your problem and in not more than 20 minutes, you will have someone willing and able to help. There is always some form of help for anyone. From the beginner to the geek, every one heads to the forum for help. And its not just a geeky forum, you can talk about virtually everything with just about anyone from any part of the world.

EASY UPDATE
Because all  the softwares that run on you Ubuntu system are centralized, you only need to run just one update to get all your applications and system updated with the latest patches and upgrades. No need to waste time running update after update for every single program on your system.

ONE TIME INSTALL
With Ubuntu Linux, you only need to do one installation, and all your hardware just work out of the box. Your Bluetooh, wireless, network manager, screen resolution and all your other hardware just work. You don’ t have to fiddle with drivers to get things to work. Its all built into the kernel.

EASY REINSTALL
Ubuntu makes it very easy to reinstall your system in case of any such unlikely incident. This is because you can choose to install your root (/) files a directories on a separate partition of your hard drive and then have all your home folder also on another partition. The Ubuntu root is the Windows equivalent of C: and the home the equivalent of Windows My Documents. So in case you have reinstall your system, you wont have to worry about your personal documents since they are on a separate partition of your HDD.

EASY TO TRY
Ubuntu comes on a live CD which you can try without having to touch your existing installation. And if you like it, there is an icon right on the desktop where you can install the system as you are testing it.

These are just a few of the reasons why I would very much encourage my African brothers and sisters to give Ubuntu Linux and other Linux distros a try. After all, they are free, great, safe and you become part of a worldwide community.
I would very much like to know your thoughts of Linux OS and your experiences with it.