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Workshop on Standardization in E-Health
Geneva, 23-25 May 2003


Telemedicine, Telehealth or even recently E-Health are the names of very powerful telecommunication tools which are able to improve the equitable access to health care. The ability of telemedicine to facilitate medical care, irrespective of distance and availability of medical specialists on site, makes it attractive to the health care sector. Telemedicine allows better utilization of scarce medical personnel and resources.

If telemedicine has become a matter of importance in the work of the ITU-Development Sector, it is thanks to the World Telecommunication Development Conferences held in Buenos Aires, Valletta and Istanbul. The reason is simple: because in developing countries telemedicine helps save human lives. This very same reason motivates telecom operators to be supportive to telemedicine pilot projects.

Telemedicine may be seen as a valuable tool for providing much-needed health care services to under-served rural areas. This is equally important for both developed and developing countries. The widespread delivery of communication services (for example telecenters) in rural areas could bring solutions for telemedicine as well.

Telemedicine is no longer a technology awaiting application. This is a powerful tool, which has been successfully utilized in actual patient care. Telemedicine is ready for widespread implementation, as the equipment has advanced to the point where its applications are practical and potentially cost-effective. Several telemedicine pilot projects have been successfully implemented by BDT/ITU in developing countries, in partnership with WHO, Telecom Operators, Universities and Health Administrations, thus showing the way for other countries to follow. BDT has been approached recently by a number of Administrations or Health Ministries for assistance to set-up telemedicine projects. We are open for partnerships to this end.

Developing countries need telemedicine and it is useful for their health care system. So far, telemedicine projects have been implemented by BDT, together with other partners, in the following countries: Bhutan, Georgia, Malta, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Senegal, Uganda and Ukraine. In the near future, telemedicine projects might be implemented in Bulgaria, Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Kenya, Latvia, Lebanon, Mauritania, Rwanda, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe, etc.

The application of telemedicine services depends very much on local conditions and requirements. Even among developed countries, the application area of telemedicine services is different from country to country.

The continuing decline in the cost of telecommunications and information technology, as well as great leaps in digital imaging and compression techniques, have spurred a new wave of enthusiasm for telemedicine, particularly in developing countries. It is in these countries where telemedicine’s greatest asset – allowing specialist medical expertise to be delivered to regions and locations where doctors are few on the ground – shows the best prospects for success. For governments struggling with limited health care budgets, a shortage of doctors and other health care professionals, dispersed rural hospitals and poor transportation infrastructure, telemedicine may help them overcome some of these difficult challenges in meeting the health care needs of their citizens.

You need good local leadership to ensure proper implementation and follow-up. Many developing countries are setting up national committees or task forces including representatives from both the telecommunication and health care sectors. These groups play a very important pivotal role in enlisting support from all stake-holders in the country and in formulating viable telemedicine projects.

You need as well "star" doctors to be involved in pilot telemedicine project.

In particular, we most welcome active cooperation and the leadership of the World Health Organization in the Telemedicine domain. For example, we at the ITU are co-organizing jointly with the WHO, a Third World Telemedicine Symposium for the Developing Countries in Tunis, Tunisia, 1-4 December 2003. After all, information communication technology is just another tool for enhanced health care.

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Updated : 2003-05-23