July 16, 2007

Ethiopia's high speed hospitals

By Elizabeth Blunt
BBC News, Addis Ababa

Ethiopian Minister of Capacity Building Tefera Walwa and Indian Minister of External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee cut the ribbon at Addis Ababa University's new tele-education centre
Another 20 hospitals will soon be linked to the network
In a consulting room at the Black Lion teaching hospital in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, a pregnant woman lies on a couch, while an ultrasound image is taken of her baby.

Nearby, a doctor watches, as the image appears on a computer screen in front of him.

It's a scene that can be found in hospitals worldwide.

But what is special about this consulting room is that as the image appears here, it appears simultaneously on a similar computer screen at the Care Hospital, a specialist hospital in Hyderabad in southern India.

And in two windows to the right of the screen the doctors at each end can see each other, and confer about their patient.

Indian aid

Using a light pen they can point out features on the scan to each other.

Doctor at Addis Ababa's Black Lion Hospital consults via live tele-conference with a doctor in Hyderabad, India
The two doctors can see each other and confer about the patient

And they can show each other X-rays, cardiograms showing the patient's heartbeat, the results of her laboratory tests - whatever they need to share.

This is just the pilot for a scheme which will eventually be rolled out all over Africa, set up by Indian technicians and paid for by Indian aid.

At the moment three hospitals are linked by fast internet connection - the Care Hospital, Black Lion, and a provincial Ethiopian hospital in Nekemte, 300 km (188 miles) to the west of Addis Ababa.

The project was officially inaugurated by the Indian Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, on his visit to Ethiopia earlier this month, but even before the official inauguration some 40 patients had benefited from the new facilities.

Sharing expertise

The next stage is to link a total of 20 hospitals round Ethiopia into the network, so health workers in rural centres can have access to the best possible advice for their patients.

In a country where transportation is often slow and difficult it should mean that very sick patients can be treated by the best doctors in the country without having to be moved from where they are.

Although a hospital in India is part of the initial hook-up, Ratan Singh, the enthusiastic project manager stresses that this is not about providing Indian medical expertise to Africa.

What he is doing, he says, is to provide a technical platform, a means of sharing expertise, which African health services can use however they think best.

India will set up the project and run it free of charge for the first five years.

A sister project will link university students and teachers across the continent.

Twenty-three African countries have already signed up to the project, which was originally agreed between India and the African Union.

Eventually it will have its own dedicated satellite and five regional super-specialist hospitals in different parts of Africa will provide the best available medical expertise.

BBC News

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