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DEVELOPMENT REPORT - Fighting Malaria in Africa From Your Home Computer

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This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Personal computers can spend a lot of time doing nothing. But scientists keep finding reasons for computers connected to the Internet to stay busy. And maybe even help the world.

A boy suffering from severe malaria in Sudan
A boy suffering from severe malaria in Sudan

Now researchers at the Swiss Tropical Institute have developed a program called MalariaControl.net. The idea is to use surplus computing power to test how well a vaccine and other malaria interventions might work in Africa. The findings could help direct the best use of resources.

The World Health Organization estimates that almost one million people each year die from malaria. Most of them are young children in Africa south of the Sahara Desert.

The scientists say their research with mathematical models could take up to forty years on their own computers. Now imagine thousands of computers worldwide, working together and linked to the University of Geneva over the Web. They might be able to do the job in just a few months.

MalariaControl.net is another example of volunteer computing. This is based on the idea that most computers are inactive most of the time. During these times when they are not being used, they can help solve complex scientific or engineering problems.

Volunteers download a program from a Web site. Usually, the software works as a screensaver. Every so often, using the Internet, the program uploads results or downloads more information to be processed.

In nineteen ninety-nine, scientists launched the SETI@home project developed at the University of California, Berkeley. SETI is the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The search involves listening by radio telescope for signals from space. Computers process the information collected. The software has been downloaded onto millions of personal computers worldwide.

Now the idea of SETI@home has led to Africa@home. The Web site is africaathome.net. This is a site for volunteer computing projects involving humanitarian issues in Africa.

The first project, MalariaControl.net, is still early in its development. By last week the scientists had reached a target of about two thousand users. They said they would not accept new users for the next few weeks.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report. You can find a link to Africa@home and transcripts of our reports at our Web site, www.unsv.com. This is Shep O'Neal.

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