Technology, Patents, and Humanitarian Aid: A Comparative Study of Plumpy’nut, Golden Rice, and Oral Rehydration Therapy
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This thesis explores the use of technological fixes by humanitarian aid and international development programs. Technological fixes are often promoted by international aid organizations, but they face several potential limitations. First, technological fixes can be controlled via international patents. Secondly, technological fixes are often foreign supplied and distributed. This thesis attempts to identify how these two characteristics impact the effectiveness of technologies used for international humanitarian aid. Specifically, this research was carried out through a qualitative comparative study of three representative technologies aimed at improving child health in the developing world. The three technologies chosen were: Plumpy’nut, Golden Rice, and Oral Rehydration Therapy. Plumpy’nut is patented and of simple design, Golden Rice is patented and scientifically complex, and Oral Rehydration Therapy has a simple structure and was never patented. By comparing the cases of these three technologies, several preliminary conclusions were drawn. First, patents can slow the development, limit the supply, and increase the price of technological fixes and detract from their ability to effectively meet the health needs of children in the developing world. Secondly, technological fixes risk being band-aid solutions that only address the curative side of child health problems, without addressing their causes. Lastly, when technological fixes are developed and supplied by companies and organizations in the developed world, they often fail to create the local health knowledge and community-based capacity that is needed for long-term improvement in child health.
dissertation or thesis