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[LAGOS] An ambitious project to link up African Union countries with Indian hospitals and universities via satellite will accelerate this year after a pilot project in Ethiopia proved successful.

Ethiopia was the first country to participate in the Indian taxpayer-funded project, called the Pan-African e-Network, and Nigeria is scheduled to go online in June.

The project, costing more than US$100 million, aims to connect universities and hospitals of all 53 countries of the African Union with Indian counterparts for telemedicine and tele-education activities. It uses video conferencing and Voice over Internet Protocol services such as Skype for communication.
Students and teachers at Addis Ababa University and Haramaya University in Alemaya, Ethiopia, have been working via satellite with the New Delhi-based Indira Gandhi National Open University since Ethiopia's US$2.12 million pilot project was launched in Addis Ababa in July 2007. The first intake of distance learning students will graduate in June.

Ethiopia's Black Lion Hospital in Addis Ababa and the rural Nekempte Hospital are also consulting with Indian heart specialists at the CARE hospital in Hyderabad and the Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital chain. Doctors in Ethiopia can transmit digitised forms of x-rays, electrocardiograms (ECG), ultrasound scans and other test results.

Satellite ground stations are being installed at universities and hospitals in Cameroon, Egypt, Malawi and Niger. Botswana, Burundi, Djibouti, Mozambique and Uganda are scheduled to join the network later this year, with the Comoros islands, Cote D'Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, Togo and Zambia following by the end of 2009.

"The Pan African e-Network will be a virtually interactive real-time session when it starts in June. Students and teachers from India will meet at a fixed time and see each other on a giant video screen. They interact live like in a normal classroom environment,"
Bayo Ore from the Centre for Information Technology and Systems at the University of Lagos, which is implementing the tele-education component of the Nigerian project, told SciDev.Net.

Joanna Nwosu, the programme officer for the Nigerian Academy of Science, warned that the e-network's main challenge might be the lack of equipment for diagnosis and constant power cuts.

But Akin Osibogun, the chief medical director at Lagos university teaching hospital, said an Indian technical team is in Nigeria to train local technical staff to run the system and uninterrupted power supply equipment has already been installed.