A working group has proposed pilot projects to deliver information and communication technologies (ICT) to sub-Saharan Africa in order to improve healthcare systems.
At a meeting in Gaborone, Botswana earlier this month (1 March), the Telemedicine Task Force reviewed ICT for health in the region.
Three pilot projects were proposed under the eHealth initiative, part of a European Union strategy to enhance interconnectivity in Africa through ICT.
Giorgio Parentela, manager of the Telemedicine Task Force, said the first project will offer continuing professional education via satellite to health workers in selected remote areas.
The second project will establish electronic communications between healthcare facilities in isolated areas with a high burden of diseases, as well as medical centres of excellence in Africa for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
The third project has the more general objective of promoting ICT for health in East Africa. It aims to improve ICT infrastructure in the region and develop databases of health and geographical information, such as satellite images.
The East African Community — an intergovernmental organisation — considers these databases to be a fundamental tool for improving the quality and sharing of data on communicable diseases.
A report presented at the Gaborone meeting revealed how overall ICT penetration in most African countries is low. It concluded that complementing existing ICT infrastructure with satellite communications could achieve better communications coverage for the sub-Saharan region.
"We recognise the importance of building on existing initiatives already developed or underway in the region, and demonstrating the potential of satellite-based ICT to extend the reach of these initiatives to more remote and hard to reach areas," Parentela told SciDev.Net.
Habib Somanje, director of Preventative Health Services at the Malawi Ministry of Health, emphasised the need for an integrated approach, improving the health workforce and access to proper medication and information by all, and not just focusing on new technology.
The Telemedicine Task Force comprises African government officials and representatives from the New Partnership for African Development, the African Development Bank, the World Health Organization, the European Commission and the European Space Agency.