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19 November 2008, 15:22

Open source against AIDS

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The Technology Review reports that in Africa, what at first glance looks like a bureaucratic formality can save lives. In Malawi a patient data management system that helps maximise the benefits of limited medical resources, is helping only 280 medical doctors look after 14 million inhabitants – half a million of which are HIV positive.

Developed by US computer expert Gerry Douglas, the Baobab Health Partnership’s system now reduces the typical time it takes to arrange a patient appointment to less than a minute. The software also improves the treatment quality by eliminating mistakes which could have been made when re-typing paper forms.

The application was developed on the basis of the open source OpenMRS software, whose development is masterminded by two humanitarian organisations in the US. However, Douglas' true stroke of genius may be the system's hardware: the underlying Baobab system uses discarded HP servers and the patient terminals are controlled by touch screens which display control buttons and an on-screen keyboard. This seemingly expensive technology is actually provided by the I-Opener – an dedicated internet-client computer offered by US vendor Netpliance a few years ago at the ridiculously low subsidised price of $99.

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