Ultra low-power computer for rural medical clinics in Africa?
November 20, 2007 2:14 AM   Subscribe

A family member is working on a development project in Africa which will involve setting up a database of patient records in rural medical clinics. There are some cheap computers out there now, but only a few solutions consider the cost and unreliability of power in such regions. He also needs something which runs a standard operating system, so the OLPC computer isn't right. The best I've found so far is the Inveneo project, which was actually designed with such communities in mind. I'm wondering if there are any other solutions that MeFi community members might know of which are comparable to the one offered by Inveneo?

There was this post on Ask MeFi about low-power laptops, but it really addressed a different set of needs than what a development organization would need.
posted by Kerim to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your relative is most likely looking for OpenMRS (Open Medical Record System) which is a Java based open source system. I briefly worked on a project that was trying to deploy it here in South Africa, but I became too busy with other work to continue with it and a close friend is continuing with the project. I personally found OpenMRS to be an overly complex system which was extremely painful to deploy but your relative might have better luck than I did.

Another project which is related to OpenMRS is the Baobab Health Partnership. They have essentially taken the data model (schema, etc.) from OpenMRS and implemented it using Ruby on Rails with some nifty equipment.

Check out the OpenMRS wiki and mailing lists and chat with the guys in #openmrs and #baobab on Freenode to get more information.
posted by KayTerra at 2:52 AM on November 20, 2007

Response by poster: Actually, he's looking to implement something a little different since there are not many doctors in these rural areas who could use something as complex as OpenMRS. He already is working with people on the software end - but its the hardware which is a problem.

But your suggestion of contacting the OpenMRS folks is a good one as they may have dealt with similar hardware issues.
posted by Kerim at 3:42 AM on November 20, 2007

"Standard OS", "cheap" and "rugged" might be one of those "pick two" deals. But an off-the-wall suggestion... how about a mobile phone talking to a secure web server?
posted by Leon at 5:13 AM on November 20, 2007

Unless you are engaged in an ideological war, don't rule out the closed source companies.

We do some consulting work for charities and The Beast From Redmond provides absolutely insane discounts to US 501c's. I imagine that other companies who actually focus on your needs might have similar policies.
posted by mrbugsentry at 7:09 AM on November 20, 2007

This isn't what you're looking for, but I'd vote for a paper-based system.

Few people there will know how to use or fix computers. While it will definitely be possible to train the first users, what happens when those users leave? What happens when it gets a virus? What happens when something is accidentally deleted? What happens when anything slightly unplanned happens, and there is no one around with the expertise to fix it? ('Backing up' isn't the answer, because what happens when the 'mzungu who gave us the computers' leaves and no one else knows why you should back up, or even how to get the info off of the back up drive and onto the laptop?) What happens when something needs to be printed, and there isn't any more ink in the printer and there's no money to buy cartridges, and besides, someone would have to travel all the way to the next big town to buy some? Or to buy printer paper?

Work with the system they have. Do you know how many rural african villages there are with water pumps that foreigners installed, that are now useless because it needs a new 3 cent washer and there isn't anywhere to buy a washer? That's what will happen to these computers.
posted by Kololo at 8:55 AM on November 20, 2007

Response by poster: @Kololo: Software is needed to process the information. If there were enough doctors around then paper would do, but their aren't.

@mrbugsentry: Windows would be fine, but this is a hardware issue not a software issue. Presumably the proper hardware would work with both Linux and Windows.

@Leon: Mobile phones were considered first (it started out as a tele-medicine project), but rejected. I don't fully know the reasons why.

@Everyone else. Specific suggestions for low-power hardware suitable for a rural areal would be most welcome.
posted by Kerim at 4:43 PM on November 20, 2007

The Asus EEPC is a cheap machine similar to the OLPC but twice as powerful and designed to run mainstream OS's, and it's designed to be rugged. It's also about $200.

The other alternative would be to buy used stuff on ebay.
posted by delmoi at 12:39 AM on November 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks delmoi.

I just discovered the Aleutia which looks interesting
posted by Kerim at 4:27 PM on December 2, 2007

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