GHC Conference: Talking About Open Source

The second plenary session I attended was called "The Big Choice: The Successes and Challenges of Open Source Technology." The panelists were Karl Brown from the Rockefeller Foundation, Paul Biondich of OpenMRS, Alexandre Rideau of Reseau African d'Education pour la Sante and our own Pape Gaye, CEO of IntraHealth International.

While the panelists were careful to say that they were not open source evangelists, they spent a lot more time talking about the successes of open source than the challenges. It's hard not to focus on the positives when there are so many.

Open source is not just a means for licensing software. It is a philosophy that meshes well with our capacity building work. We will be successful once we make ourselves obsolete, Paul Biondich says, and I completely agree. By giving the source code to the software users, we are empowering them to generate their own solutions. A solution coming from a source that is closer to the problem will naturally be more applicable and longer lasting.

What do we need to do? We need to educate people about open source software -- that it is secure, it is reliable, and it works. We need to link with universities and colleges to train the next generation of ICT professionals in using and programming open source technologies, and then we need to get those professionals excited about working in healthcare, where their skills are most needed.

Open source software may not always be the best solution, especially when there is already a supported, stable solution out there to a problem. But where this is no existing solution, where we are developing the solutions and even giving them away for free, why not release the software under an open source license? We should not be afraid of making ourselves obsolete. Rather, we should make that our mission.