ICTs: A THREAT TO GLOBAL HEALTH?
In the past two decades, smart phones have dramatically reshaped the way that we socialize with friends and family, share information, conduct business, and entertain ourselves in our day to day lives. We are living in a society dominated by wireless devices, which is unprecedented in human history. We are absolutely nuts about technology.
Information communication technologies (ICTs) have now become a significant factor in global development. Many countries and organizations are utilizing these devices to help tackle health issues. Countless success stories reveal the incredible positive impacts that mobile phones have had; they are used to monitor disease outbreaks, control chronic illnesses such as diabetes, increase access to health care for remote communities, empower expectant mothers, and remind patients to take medications and to attend appointments. For example, in Uganda, Text to Change used SMS as a tool to combat HIV/AIDS. This program yielded a 40% increase in the number of people getting tested. Moreover, a 2007 mHealth for Development study revealed that in Thailand, when cell phone users were sent text messages with reminders to take their pills on time, willingness to comply with drug regimens to control tuberculosis jumped to 90%.
In addition to helping solve trying health issues, it is widely believed that cell phones (not computers) are the answers to ensuring people of the developing world are up to date with ICTs. Not only are they are cost-effective, but they also empower individuals and encourage entrepreneurship. An issue of increasing concern due the prevalence of cell phones, however, is the effects they could have on human health.
Research linking health and cell phone radiation show mixed results. Some studies indicate that prolonged exposure to the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields that wireless phone technologies operate on has the potential to cause reproductive problems, cancer, nervous system damage, memory loss, cataracts, sleep disturbances, and more. Others show no such links. Still, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified mobile phones as “possibly carcinogenic” meaning more exhaustive long-term research must be conducted to determine just how toxic they are to humans.
Wi-Fi, on the other hand, runs on microwave frequency, which is less strong than cell phone radiofrequency. Nevertheless, speculated health concerns have prompted schools to ban Wi-Fi use. What implications could utilizing mobile phones, as an alternative to using standard Wi-Fi on desktop and laptop computers, have on LCDs where people are increasingly reliant on these devices as their primary tool of communication (never mind on the developed world where they have already proliferated our lives)?
Despite the controversy and contradicting research, it is undeniable that we have surrounded ourselves with ICTs even though we are unsure of whether or not they are hazardous to our health. According to the United Nations, there are over 5 billion mobile phone subscriptions and 2 billion Internet users in the world. By 2016, United States technology company CISCO estimates that there will be over 10 billion mobile devices connected. Cell phones will virtually outnumber humans. Just as it is important to exercise precaution and test toxins and chemicals before widespread use, should the same go for electromagnetic fields in the realm of ICTs? Could this be another case of industry profits being put before individual welfare?