Extending the benefits of One Laptop per Child to health

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 01 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2459
  1. Paul Fontelo, research physician,
  2. Fang Liu, researcher,
  3. Kai Zhang, researcher,
  4. Michael Ackerman, assistant director
  1. 1National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD, USA
  1. Correspondence to: P Fontelo fontelo{at}

    Plans to equip every child in developing countries with a computer present possibilities beyond education. Paul Fontelo and colleagues tested the laptop’s capabilities in medical settings

    The XO computer is a rugged, low power, low cost laptop intended for educating children aged 6-12 in developing countries. One Laptop per Child, a non-profit programme originally created at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in America, distributes them to governments of developing countries that are committed to funding and supporting its programme to enable learning through collaboration, exploration, and experimentation. It believes that young children learn best by doing.

    Nearly 400 000 computers (each costing $210 (£133; €164) have been delivered to children and teachers in 20 countries, with another quarter of a million on order. If this ambitious programme even partially succeeds then many regions of the world with poor resources but high health needs will have access to these computers. Given the computer’s functionality, we wondered whether some of the benefits could be extended to health care.

    The National Library of Medicine has developed portals for handheld devices, mobile phones, and computers in low bandwidth environments, and our initial aim was to find out how well the XO computer accessed PubMed. But as we continued to explore, it became apparent that it has many other features that could be useful in health care. We did most of the testing at the National Library of Medicine. However, we simulated what currently exists in developing countries through repeated testing in wired and wireless networks in homes. We connected the XO to an internet service provider using dialup analogue modems through a regular landline telephone. We also used a mobile phone to access the internet.

    Features of XO computer

    • The XO is a child-sized laptop that is rugged, inexpensive, and energy efficient

    • The XO works as a standalone computer or …

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