15 August 2009


Computer viruses in The Gambia

These are the musings of the Pageant Webmaster, and in no way represent any Pageant policy.

The Virus Problem
Many people donate their old computers for use in developing countries, and we at Pageant know of several Gambian people and educational establishments who use such computers. However, until I read a recent article in the Guardian Technology supplement, I hadn't considered the consequences of viruses. This article is concerned with Ethiopia, but the main points are probably valid for large parts of Africa. I recommend that you read it, and also look at the very useful comments at the end. [link to the article] It seems that around 80% of all computers are infected with viruses or other malware, and large numbers of these computers have been rendered unusable, after a virus destroyed vital files.

The problem seems to be due to a shortage of anti-virus software. A typical anti-virus package can cost each user £30 a year, a large sum in terms of the local average income. Also packages from brand leaders like Symantec and McAfee are large, and have large update files to be downloaded on a daily basis. Broadband is very rare in The Gambia, and most people with internet access use a dial-up service. Downloading the update files could take a whole day, so these products are not really suitable for users in The Gambia, even if they could afford them.

Free anti-virus products are a bit better. To start with they are free. They also tend to be basic stripped down versions, with smaller file sizes – typically around 30Mb. They could be downloaded on a dial-up connection in about 2 hours, but this is still a bit of a pain. The updating files are also smaller. Even if an anti-virus program is not kept up to date, it will still provide a huge amount of protection, as many of the viruses in circulation are up to 10 years old.

What can we here in the richer countries do to help?
Firstly here are some links to free anti-virus programs:
AVG I used to use the AVG free version before upgrading to a paid for version, and fully recommend it. However, note that the initial download of 800kb is just an installation program, which then downloads the rest.
Avasti I have no knowledge of this, but it is highly recommended.
Avira Again highly recommended.
All these are free for non-commercial home use, and I would not in any way suggest that users in The Gambia did not adhere to these terms and conditions. It would be nice if the makers of these packages could extend free use to everyone in developing countries.
Next, if you are going to The Gambia soon, what about downloading one of these anti-virus programs, copy it onto a CD (or even a memory stick) and take it with you. Taking pens, notebooks etc. is now a widespread practice, so why not add a few CDs?

Let us know what you think.
Please email me with your comments, using the website feedback form on this link.
To our readers in The Gambia – please tell us about how computer viruses affect you.
To our readers in the UK or anywhere else – please tell us what you think of the CD idea, and could you suggest better ways of tackling the virus problem.

<< Home