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Friday, 29 September, 2000, 02:44 GMT 03:44 UK
'Digital divide' hits third world health
Village scene
Internet access is limited in developing countries
The developing world is not getting any benefit from the wealth of health information available on the internet, say experts.

The vast majority of people in developing countries have no chance of access to the internet, and much of the information they might find is not relevant to them.

During a visit to India in March, US president Bill Clinton watched a woman using the web to obtain health information on how to care for her baby.

But health professionals say this is nowhere near a accurate reflection of internet use in the developing world.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, a World Health Organisation official, Tessa Tan-Torres Edejer said the current divide between digital haves and have-nots was "more dramatic" than any other inequality in health or income.

Ms Edejer writes: "Advances in information and communication technologies make the global distribution of this information seem effortless.

"It is rare for a woman in a developing country to have access to the internet.

"Even if the woman in the village has access to the internet, she will not necessarily be able to use the information to improve her child's health."

In Africa, which has a population of 700m, fewer than a million people had access to the internet in 1998 - four out of five of these in South Africa.

Community access

A global initiative is aiming to produce community access to the internet worldwide by the year 2004.

Ms Edejer has found the developing world accounts for a tiny proportion of medical journal articles.

The whole of Latin America, she said, accounted for less than half of one percent of articles found via the Medline search engine in 1996.

She is calling for more interactivity so people accessing the internet in developing countries can both post their own research or comment on other papers.

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