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CNN, The Independent, VOA News Examine Technology, Health Systems In Developing Countries

CNN examines the increasing numbers of health workers using cell phone technology to monitor diseases in the developing world. The article features EpiSurveyor – “a free, open-source application designed for personal digital assistants” that can be downloaded onto cell phones, so that officials can “gather data directly from the site of the outbreak and send it electronically back to headquarters for faster analysis,” CNN writes.

Though “[m]obile devices such as PDAs or handheld computers have been used for field studies since the late 1990s … [and] electronic survey methods have traditionally been expensive, labor-intensive and challenging to implement on a global scale…fans point out that EpiSurveyor’s success hinges on ready access to technology already in place,” CNN writes.

Compared to 305 million PCs and 11 million hospital beds in developing countries, there are 2.2 billion cell phones, according to said Claire Thwaites, who directs a partnership between Vodafone Foundation, which helped fund EpiSurveyor, and the U. N. Foundation. “Sixty-four percent of all mobile phone users live in the developing world, according to a U.N. estimate. By 2012, the U.N. believes, half of all residents in remote areas of the world will have mobile phones,” according to CNN.

A collaboration between the WHO and government health officials from more than 20 African countries has resulted in the training of “…more than 800 health care workers … [on how] to use this cell phone software, revolutionizing the way health care data can be collected, monitored and assessed” (Ansari, CNN, 6/16).

The Independent examines the use of Internet and communication technology (ICT) in Africa to “overcome problems of limited health care skills and growing disease burden.” The article describes plans in Uganda to launch a three-year pilot project called “ICT4MPOWER”, expected to reach about 400,000 people, that will “explore ways Uganda can use ICT to improve the information flow from patients and communities to the regional referral get better health out comes.”

As part of the project, “the experts will develop an electronic health record and referral system, unique client ID system as well as strategic delivery of eLearning and tele-consultation,” the newspaper writes. Health teams will be trained in how to use the mobile phones to record information about “members of every household” located in the district. This information “will be fed into a central server” for health centers, that will then be updated each time a patient visits the health center. Half of the program’s cost is funded by “SPIEDER, a Swedish agency for ICT in developing regions,” according to the Independent.

“Just like in many African countries, such efforts by [the] Ugandan government to promote telemedicine will not come easy,” the newspaper writes, adding, “The main challenge as Dr. Mukooyo [a commissioner in Uganda’s ministry of health who in charge of the project] put it is … ‘technophobia'” since “many health workers in Uganda are not used to using these technologies which means they will require a lot of training and sensitization” (Kagumire, Independent, 6/16).

In related news, VOA News examines how the U.N. is trying to improve electronic communication, or “eHealth” services, for health workers in Africa. As part of the radio broadcast, Stennar Pedersen, the director of the Norwegian Center for Telemedicine at the University Hospital of North Norway, and Elias Sory, the director general of health services in Ghana, share their views on the value of eHealth (VOA News, 6/16). 

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