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First World Telemedicine Symposium to be Held in Portugal

Geneva, 11 April 1997 — The first World Telemedicine Symposium for developing countries is to be held at the Hotel Estoril Sol, near Lisbon, Portugal, from 30 June to 4 July 1997. The symposium is an ITU initiative, hosted by the Portuguese Telecommunications Administration through the Instituto das Comunicações de Portugal (ICP).The World Symposium will look at the potential of this technology to improve medical care for people living in rural and remote areas of developing countries.

'Telemedicine' refers to the provision of medical services and health care via telecommunications-based systems. The range of such services is very wide, and includes medical consultation, pathology diagnosis, education and emergency services.

A community telemedicine centre located in a village could help with the diagnosis and treatment of ailments without the need for the presence of a physician 'on-site'. Villagers would instead be able to 'dial-a-doctor', establishing a link whereby a physician located in another town or even another country could prescribe a course of action or treatment which could be dispensed by local nurses. Such systems, which are being made possible today through breakthrough developments in telecommunications, image compression and computing, offer real hope to areas which, for economic or geographical reasons, do not have access to adequate medical care.

The new Symposium was announced by the Director of the International Telecommunication Union's Telecommunication Development Bureau, Mr Ahmed Laouyane. "The Symposium responds to Recommendations of the ITU's Regional Telecommunication Development Conferences in Abidjan and Beirut," said Mr Laouyane, adding that he hoped to involve other organizations, such as the European Commission and the World Health Organization, in the event.

The Symposium will look at the ways telemedicine can deliver socio-economic benefits to communities, including:

  • improved health care for a greater proportion of a country's population, especially those in rural areas;
  • a reduction in the need to transport patients from rural to urban hospitals or even outside the country;
  • the provision of a means of consultation between health-care professionals in rural clinics and specialists in urban hospitals; and
  • access to medical databases by remote health-care professionals so that they can keep up to date with developments in the field.

In addition, telemedicine has the potential to offer a number of indirect benefits to a country, such as development of a value-added service for delivery by telecom operators.

Telemedicine is already under consideration by the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector's Study Group 2. This Group, which includes representatives from more than 20 countries as well as from organizations including Inmarsat, the French Ministry of Health, the European Commission, and the World Health Organization, is currently preparing a draft report to be presented to the Symposium which will include the capabilities of major service providers of telemedicine services. Two large-scale trials of telemedicine technology involving the European Commission and other G-7 institutions were recommended in a Resolution taken at the ITU's African Regional Telecommunication Development Conference held in Abidjan in May of last year. While there remains, as yet, no date set for these trials, it is hoped they will go ahead as soon as funding is available.

"Trials are needed to evaluate the most effective ways of delivering telemedicine services in the developing world, as well as to evaluate which services and technologies would be most appropriate," Mr Laouyane said. "I hope that the Symposium in Portugal will provide an opportunity for developing and developed countries to share their experience of telemedecine and will contribute to progress on the development of global standards for telemedicine," he concluded.

For further information please contact: Mr Leonid Androuchko, Telecommunication Development Bureau, ITU, tel: +41 22 730 5433 fax: +41 22 730 5484.

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