Uganda to install teleconsultation service for better health delivery in rural areas

Kampala 13 August 2000The Ministry of Health in Uganda has launched a new technology, which enables physicians in rural areas to consult directly with experts in Kampala through the use of video link. State Minister for Health, Dr. Phillip Byaruhanga, stated that the new technology will reduce the professional gap between up country doctors and consultants in Kampala.

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Telemedicine makes use of information technologies to distribute information in form of images, voice and data. The new facility is connected to computers and telephone, and offers live video conferencing. "This is one of the ministry's undertakings in improving medical services delivery across the country by helping physicians competently manage cases through consultations among themselves", according to Dr. Byaruhanga.

The facility is based at Mulago Hospital and has links both with Mengo and Nakaseke Hospital in Luwero District. Dr. Byaruhanga added that other centres in Butabika Hospital, Makerere University and in district hospitals all over the country would also be connected to the Mulago centre.

This pilot project, supported by the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) of the International Telecommunication Union is part of a strategy to provide specialist care in surgery, paediatrics, obstetrics, gynaecology and internal medicine in regional referral hospitals whose medical teams can only afford one or two specialists.

It is estimated that 50 percent of all 800 doctors are in Kampala while 60 percent of nurses are in rural areas. With a very high maternal mortality rate ranging from 500 to 2000 deaths per 100.000 births and an infant mortality rate of 97 per 1000, the need to improve medical delivery and to optimise limited medical resources is a matter of life. The pilot project equally aims at providing access to other specialities which are currently unavailable such as psychiatrics, anaesthetics or ophthalmology.

"We want to see a decrease in the numbers of referred patients cases to Mulago Hospital from district hospitals for consultant advice and patient counselling", Dr. Lawrence Kaggwa, the director of Mulago Hospital commented. He continued that the centre at Mulago is also linked to other international centres to enable local medical consultants keep abreast of new developments in the medical field.

Through the use of Internet, electronic mail or telephone lines the system is connected to a remote controlled video camera which picks the images of the patient and transforms them into electronic form. The director general for health services, Professor Francis Omaswa, stated that the new technology would also be used in the sharing of medical information among researchers and other stakeholders in the medical profession.


Leslie Versweyveld

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