TELEMEDICINE AND TELE-EDUCATION
For developing countries, delivering even basic health care and education to remote, sparsely populated regions has long seemed an almost insurmountable challenge. Today, thanks to the advent of broadband communication links and advances in compression and image processing technology, telemedicine and tele-education applications are becoming cost-effective solutions.
A number of telemedicine projects are currently being deployed by ITU in countries including Bhutan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Georgia, Kenya, Malta, Mozambique, Myanmar, Senegal, Uganda and Venezuela. One example of this work is a
ground-breaking pilot project in Uganda, which is already greatly extending the reach of vital health services into isolated rural areas. Using an ISDN point-to-point link connecting Mengo hospital in downtown Kampala with Mulago teaching hospital, doctors in both clinics — along with other specialists connected to the system via the Internet — can now exchange information on patient diagnoses and treatment in areas ranging from primary care to surgery, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology. Future plans will see the capability of the project eventually expanded to include additional specialties such as psychiatry, anaesthesiology and ophthalmology.
In the equally important area of distance learning, ITU is closely involved in two innovative pilot projects to deliver tele-education services in Morocco and India. Both projects combine the latest VSAT satellite technology with advanced Management Information System software to bring interactive online education to rural communities.
In India, where the project is linked to an existing ITU development initiative, VSAT systems now connect 21 online Learning Centres, while in Morocco, VSAT capability is expected to be provided towards the end of 2001 to service an initial 15 new learning facilities. Each Centre can accommodate up to 40 students, who interact in real time with teachers located in centralized off-site training studios. Both pilots are scheduled to run for up to three years, and are being managed in conjunction with partners including the Indian and Moroccan governments, UNESCO and the World Bank.
ACCESS IS ALL
The 1984 Maitland Report on worldwide telecommunications development recommended that all mankind should be brought within easy reach of basic telecommunications services by early this century. As part of its strategy to fulfil that pledge, ITU is directly involved in developing nine multipurpose community telecentre projects, which are helping bring telephone, fax, e-mail, Internet and, in some cases, computing resources, distance learning and telemedicine to remote villages in Benin, Bhutan, Honduras, India, Mali, Suriname, Tanzania, Uganda and Viet Nam.