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      Scaling up a Mobile Telemedicine Solution in Botswana: Keys to Sustainability

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          Effective health care delivery is significantly compromised in an environment where resources, both human and technical, are limited. Botswana’s health care system is one of the many in the African continent with few specialized medical doctors, thereby posing a barrier to patients’ access to health care services. In addition, the traditional landline and non-robust Information Technology (IT) network infrastructure characterized by slow bandwidth still dominates the health care system in Botswana. Upgrading of the landline IT infrastructure to meet today’s health care demands is a tedious, long, and expensive process. Despite these challenges, there still lies hope in health care delivery utilizing wireless telecommunication services. Botswana has recently experienced tremendous growth in the mobile telecommunication industry coupled with an increase in the number of individually owned mobile devices. This growth inspired the Botswana-UPenn Partnership (BUP) to collaborate with local partners to explore using mobile devices as tools to improve access to specialized health care delivery. Pilot studies were conducted across four medical specialties, including radiology, oral medicine, dermatology, and cervical cancer screening. Findings from the studies became vital evidence in support of the first scale-up project of a mobile telemedicine solution in Botswana, also known as “Kgonafalo.” Some technical and social challenges were encountered during the initial studies, such as malfunctioning of mobile devices, accidental damage of devices, and cultural misalignment between IT and healthcare providers. These challenges brought about lessons learnt, including a strong need for unwavering senior management support, establishment of solid local public-private partnerships, and efficient project sustainability plans. Sustainability milestones included the development and signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Botswana government and a private telecommunications partner, the publication and awarding of the government tender to a local IT company, and the development and signing of a Memorandum of Agreement between the Ministry of Health Clinical Services department and the local tender winner. The initial system scale-up is scheduled to occur in 2014 and to ensure the project’s sustainability, the system is aligned with the national eHealth strategy and local ownership of the project remains at the forefront ( 1).

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          Most cited references 6

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          Use of mobile telemedicine for cervical cancer screening.

          Visual inspection of the cervix with application of 4% acetic acid (VIA) is an inexpensive alternative to cytology-based screening in areas where resources are limited, such as in many developing countries. We have examined the diagnostic agreement between off-site (remote) expert diagnosis using photographs of the cervix (photographic inspection with acetic acid, PIA) and in-person VIA. The images for remote evaluation were taken with a mobile phone and transmitted by MMS. The study population consisted of 95 HIV-positive women in Gaborone, Botswana. An expert gynaecologist made a definitive positive or negative reading on the PIA results of 64 out of the 95 women whose PIA images were also read by the nurse midwives. The remaining 31 PIA images were deemed insufficient in quality for a reading by the expert gynaecologist. The positive nurse PIA readings were concordant with the positive expert PIA readings in 82% of cases, and the negative PIA readings between the two groups were fully concordant in 89% of cases. These results suggest that mobile telemedicine may be useful to improve access of women in remote areas to cervical cancer screening utilizing the VIA 'see-and-treat' method.
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            Implementation of m-health applications in Botswana: telemedicine and education on mobile devices in a low resource setting.

            Although Botswana has recently been categorised as an upper middle income country, it is burdened by a scarcity of resources, both human and technological. There are barriers to patients' access to specialized care and healthcare providers' access to medical knowledge. Over the past three years, the Botswana-University of Pennsylvania Partnership (BUP) has piloted four mobile telemedicine projects in the specialties of women's health (cervical cancer screening utilizing visual inspection with acetic acid), radiology, oral medicine and dermatology. Mobile telemedicine has been used in 11 locations in Botswana, training a total of 24 clinicians and successfully contributing to the management of 643 cases. In addition to mobile telemedicine, BUP has initiated an m-learning programme with the University of Botswana School of Medicine. While successfully providing patients and providers with improved access to healthcare resources, the m-health projects have faced numerous technical and social challenges. These include malfunctioning mobile devices, unreliable IT infrastructure, accidental damage to mobile devices, and cultural misalignment between IT and healthcare providers. BUP has worked with its local partners to develop solutions to these problems. To ensure sustainability, m-health programmes must have strategic goals that are aligned with those of the national health and education system, and the initiatives must be owned and led by local stakeholders. Whenever possible, open source technology and local IT expertise and infrastructure should be employed.
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              HIV-positive patients in Botswana state that mobile teledermatology is an acceptable method for receiving dermatology care.


                Author and article information

                Front Public Health
                Front Public Health
                Front. Public Health
                Frontiers in Public Health
                Frontiers Media S.A.
                11 December 2014
                : 2
                1Botswana-UPenn Partnership , Gaborone, Botswana
                2Department of Dermatology, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania , Philadelphia, PA, USA
                Author notes

                Edited by: Richard Wootton, University Hospital of North Norway, Norway

                Reviewed by: Laurent Bonnardot, Paris Descartes University, France; David A. Simonyan, Centre hospitalier universitaire de Québec, Canada

                *Correspondence: Kagiso Ndlovu, P O Box AC 157 ACH, Gaborone, Botswana e-mail: kaygndlovu@

                This article was submitted to Public Health Education and Promotion, a section of the journal Frontiers in Public Health.

                Copyright © 2014 Ndlovu, Littman-Quinn, Park, Dikai and Kovarik.

                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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                Figures: 0, Tables: 2, Equations: 0, References: 16, Pages: 6, Words: 4608
                Public Health
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