Governments in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are increasingly shutting down the Internet as a blunt response to threatening situations such as political unrest (see go.nature.com/2msruv2). We call on inter- and non-governmental organizations to put pressure on governments to evaluate the potentially devastating effects of this tactic on health care.
In Cameroon, for example, the government cut off the Internet for three months last year. This disrupted crucial services such as the GiftedMom smartphone app, which connects rural mothers with physicians and guides them through infant vaccinations, in a country where children are almost twice as likely as the global average to die before their fifth birthday.
Furthermore, Cameroon was unable to submit 85% of its health-performance data to the District Health Information System data set DHIS2, which is used to guide funding decisions. Health workers received only partial pay because they could not report their progress to the World Bank’s performance-based financing system.
Yet no empirical research exists for the health impacts of such shutdowns. We need to know, for example, the risks they pose to emergency services and to funding for Internet-enabled medicine. Policymakers must have comprehensive data on interruptions to online services if health outcomes in the developing world are to be improved.
Nature 559, 477 (2018)