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      The role of information communication technology (ICT) towards universal health coverage: the first steps of a telemedicine project in Ethiopia

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          Eighty-five per cent of the Ethiopian population lives in remote areas, without access to modern health services. The limited health care budget, chronic shortage of health care workers and lack of incentives to retain those in remote areas further jeopardize the national health care delivery system. Recently, the application of information communication technology (ICT) to health care delivery and the use of telemedicine have raised hopes.


          This paper analyzes the challenges, failures and successes encountered in setting-up and implementing a telemedicine program in Ethiopia and provides possible recommendations for developing telemedicine strategies in countries with limited resources.


          Ten sites in Ethiopia were selected to participate in this pilot between 2004 and 2006 and twenty physicians, two per site, were trained in the use of a store and forward telemedicine system, using a dial-up internet connection. Teledermatology, teleradiology and telepathology were the chosen disciplines for the electronic referrals, across the selected ten sites.


          Telemedicine implementation does not depend only on technological factors, rather on e-government readiness, enabling policies, multisectoral involvement and capacity building processes. There is no perfect ‘one size fits all’ technology and the use of combined interoperable applications, according to the local context, is highly recommended.


          Telemedicine is still in a premature phase of development in Ethiopia and other sub-Saharan African countries, and it remains difficult to talk objectively about measurable impact of its use, even though it has demonstrated practical applicability beyond reasonable doubts.

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          Most cited references 33

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          'Mobile' health needs and opportunities in developing countries.

          Developing countries face steady growth in the prevalence of chronic diseases, along with a continued burden from communicable diseases. "Mobile" health, or m-health-the use of mobile technologies such as cellular phones to support public health and clinical care-offers promise in responding to both types of disease burdens. Mobile technologies are widely available and can play an important role in health care at the regional, community, and individual levels. We examine various m-health applications and define the risks and benefits of each. We find positive examples but little solid evaluation of clinical or economic performance, which highlights the need for such evaluation.
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            Text messages could hasten tuberculosis drug compliance.

             Paul Barclay (2009)
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              The RAFT network: 5 years of distance continuing medical education and tele-consultations over the Internet in French-speaking Africa.

              Continuing education of healthcare professionals is a key element for the quality and efficiency of a health system. In developing countries, this activity is usually limited to capitals, and delocalized professionals do not have access to such opportunities, or to didactic material adapted to their needs. This limits the interest of such professionals to remain active in the periphery, where they are most needed to implement effective strategies for prevention and first-line healthcare. Telemedicine tools enable the communication and sharing of medical information in electronic form, and thus facilitate access to remote expertise. A physician located far from a reference center can consult its colleagues remotely in order to resolve a difficult case, follow a continuous education course over the Internet, or access medical information from digital libraries or knowledge bases. These same tools can also be used to facilitate exchanges between centers of medical expertise: health institutions of a same country as well as across borders. Since 2000, the Geneva University Hospitals have been involved in coordinating the development of a network for eHealth in Africa (the RAFT, Réseau en Afrique Francophone pour la Télémédecine), first in Mali, and now extending to 10 French-speaking African countries. The core activity of the RAFT is the webcasting of interactive courses. These sessions put the emphasis on knowledge sharing across care professionals, usually in the form of presentations and dialogs between experts in different countries. The technology used for the webcasting works with a slow (25 kbits/s) internet connection. Other activities of the RAFT network include visioconferences, teleconsultations based on the iPath system, collaborative knowledge bases development, support for medical laboratories quality control, and the evaluation of the use of telemedicine in rural areas (via satellite connections) in the context of multisectorial development. Finally, a strong emphasis is put on the development of capacities for the creation, maintenance, and publication of quality medical didactic contents. Specific courses are organized for the national coordinators of the network to develop these competencies, with the help of the Health-On-the-Net Foundation. The richness of the plurality of knowledge and know-how must be steered towards emulation and sharing, respectful of each partner's identity and culture. Collaborations with UNESCO and WHO have been initiated to address these challenges.

                Author and article information

                Glob Health Action
                Glob Health Action
                Global Health Action
                Co-Action Publishing
                02 April 2012
                : 5
                [1 ]Ethiopian Telecommunication, Department of Medical Services, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
                [2 ]Institute of Tropical Medicine, Clinical Sciences Department, Antwerp, Belgium
                Author notes
                [* ] Fassil Shiferaw Medical Director, Ethiopian Telecom Medical Services, PO Box 20915, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Tel: +251911211301. Email: et_fassil@
                © 2012 Fassil Shiferaw and Maria Zolfo

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License, permitting all non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Original Article

                Health & Social care

                developing countries, ethiopia, pilot project, africa, ehealth, telemedicine


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