"Telehealth in Africa" promotes telemedicine in developing countries

Milano 31 March 1998 Since quite some time, several groups of intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, as well as the private sector are uniting their forces to establish a telehealth link between European reference Hospital Centres in Milan, Paris and London, and a number of selected African Hospital Centres, connected with Peripheral Units of Assistance. This project, referred to as "Telehealth in Africa", initially was presented by Alberto Rovetta, Professor at the Telerobotics Laboratory of Politecnico di Milano at the UITA-UNESCO in Paris on April 7th 1995. Since then, the initiative has been extended to other developing countries as well, in co-operation with the European Collaboration Group for Telemedicine.

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Since quite some time, several groups of intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations, as well as the private sector are uniting their forces to establish a telehealth link between European reference Hospital Centres in Milan, Paris and London, and a number of selected African Hospital Centres, connected with Peripheral Units of Assistance. This project, referred to as "Telehealth in Africa", initially was presented by Alberto Rovetta, Professor at the Telerobotics Laboratory of Politecnico di Milano at the UITA-UNESCO in Paris on April 7th 1995. Since then, the initiative has been extended to other developing countries as well, in co-operation with the European Collaboration Group for Telemedicine.

Initial demonstrations of diagnostic images' transmission from Milan and Toulouse to Abidjan, Ivory Coast and Midrand, South Africa, have proven that African and developing countries are ready for telemedicine applications, including Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and Virtual Reality, but primarily prefer to make use of less sophisticated, off-the-shelf, thin-route, low cost solutions. The first concern of the project's participants is to provide facilities for diagnosis, prevention, training and education by means of satellite telecommunication systems, radio-bridges, fiber optic cables, computer networks for the transfer of case sheets, X-rays, and diagnostic analysis.

The construction of a teleconsulting and teledidactic network starts with the connection of hospitals, sanitary assistance stations and mobile infirmaries equipped with a minimum of diagnostic and clinical knowhow, to enable the exchange of medical reports and queries about clinical cases. As a second step, the telehealth link will be used for lessons, dialogues, teleconferences and meetings between teachers and sanitary teleoperators and for the transmission of didactic videofilms of medical techniques, surgical operations, therapeutic assistance methods, and first aid and re-animation in emergency. Training will also involve medical intervention on the site of accidents, and in the case of rapidly spreading epidemics.

Involved in the project are renowned institutions and industries in the fields of telecommunications and health, like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Politecnico di Milano, the French Ministry of Health, the European Telemedicine Institute of Toulouse, Inmarsat, Telecom Italy, Alcatel Italy, Telecom France, Telemedic Systems Ltd., ... The partners intend to still proliferate the number of European Centres, which are all connected amongst themselves, as well as the participating centres in Africa and else where. The latter are selected according to well-considered criteria, based on geographical factors, time zones distribution, and technical features enabling medical consultation 24h/24h.

The intercontinental telemedicine services constitute an economical and cost-effective procedure to optimise the level of health care in developing countries. Especially satellite communications, as provided by Inmarsat, offer a useful contribution to the delivery of medical care at remote, non-urban or isolated sites. Please, find more details about the origins and development of the "Telehealth in Africa" project at the Telerobotics Laboratory site of the Politecnico di Milano.


Leslie Versweyveld

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