Telemedicine has finally arrived in Nigeria via a pilot project recently launched at Lagos University. This interactive electronic mode of teaching, research and provision of medical services has been embraced by lecturers, students and patients. Its efficiency and cost-savings have encouraged other universities to consider partnerships with IT companies that provide telemedicine infrastructure.
At a recent session with the media Professor Akin Osibogun, chief medical director of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, said telemedicine employed modern technology to improve medical education and would also be used for communication between medical experts in Nigeria and abroad.
The pioneering initiative is aimed at encouraging exchange of expertise between Nigeria and India, and is funded by the ministries of education, health and science and technology.
Many wealthy Nigerians are finding it difficult to obtain visas for medical treatment in Western Europe or North America. Even when they do get visas, the medical fees are exorbitant and discouraging. The idea of travelling to India is expensive and less appealing.
To solve this problem, a group of medical academics came up with the telemedicine idea and Indian universities were chosen as partners for three reasons.
First, telemedicine is well developed on the subcontinent because of India's strength and advanced expertise in information and communication technologies. Indian expertise is available in Nigeria - in fact, the development of ICT in the country has been supported by the presence of Indian hardware computer scientists and software developers.
Second, medical education in some Indian universities is on a par with the best universities in the West, and their services are not as expensive. Third, there is a tradition of collaboration between Nigerian and Indian medical teachers and experts.
All these factors are positive ingredients for fruitful collaboration between medical lecturers at the Lagos teaching hospital and their Indian counterparts.
"The telemedicine project enables us to exchange seminars with leading hospitals in India. Also we are able to facilitate teaching consultations with experts in India," Osibogun said, adding that specialist medical centres in India would also be able to provide second opinions to Nigerian patients.
Video conferencing, an integral part of telemedicine, already functions at the university. Medical professors in Indian universities present research findings to their Nigerian counterparts and medical students, and vice versa, while academics from both countries deliver lectures.
Osibogun gave a graphic description of the how telemedicine works at LUTH: "On an interactive screen, the patient sees and speaks with his Indian medical consultant. His Nigerian counterparts are also involved in the interactive session.
"Diagnosis of the ailment of the patient is undertaken and solutions are jointly agreed upon by both doctors. The patient is treated here in Nigeria and he does not have to travel to India. That is the beauty of telemedicine."
Meanwhile, an embryo of telemedicine is already in place between 33 university teaching hospitals and other regional hospitals in Nigeria. Mobile medical vans equipped with ICT facilities move between teaching hospitals to attend to cases.
The university doctors give instructions, via ICT equipment, to their counterparts in hospitals on how to carry out, for example, minor surgery. There are plans to replace mobile ICT vans with permanent structures in each of the university teaching hospitals, to facilitate the exchange of information and expertise on medical education.
An Indian communication provider, the IT company Suburban West Africa, has established teleconferencing technology linking up university-based medical experts working in National Hospital in Abuja and the National Sickle Cell Foundation in Lagos. The two institutions recently successfully performed a live diagnostic interactive on a 13-year old sickle cell patient in Lagos.
Source: University World News
The theme for this year’s e-Governance Africa Forum has been set. Organizers, the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), said the event will be held under the theme “Effective Governance, transparent public services and citizen empowerment through Information and Communication Technologies”.
The event, aimed at facilitating and promoting information and communications technology development through knowledge-sharing events, is scheduled for Maputo, Mozambique, from 23 to 25 March.
“At a time when ICTs are defining the way the world lives and conducts business, it is important for African governments to evolve themselves to meet the demands of changing trends in order to deliver effective services and to improve their citizenry.
“This also requires the formation of Public Private Peoples Partnerships to be geared towards achieving developmental goals through the application of ICTs to governance (e-governance/e-government), electoral processes (e-democracy), food and nutrition (e-agriculture), health delivery (e-health/telemedicine), learning and capacity development (e-education) and trade (e-commerce), among others”, CTO said.
CTO in conjunction with the ICT Ministry of Mozambique will be organising the 4th annual e-Governance Africa Forum where stakeholders in the sector will converge.
After failing to get a regional broadband project off the ground due to lack of support by member countries, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) and the African Union are now focusing their attention on speeding up the implementation of ICT policy harmonization in order to enhance telecom development.
The effort is expected to bring to an end monopoly policies in the telecom sector that are blamed for poor and expensive communication services in the region.
At an ICT meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, last week, the two organizations agreed to push implementation of ICT policies in order to support economic development and regional integration, especially in the east African region.
It is not clear how the two organizations will speed up implementation of policies among their member countries. But a report and work plan on how that will be achieved is being compiled by the two organizations and will be submitted to member countries' policy makers, who will be meeting for the African Union and Nepad conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, next month.
Both the African Union and Nepad have for a long time failed to secure a critical mass of countries to support the roll-out of ICT projects, including Nepad's US$2 billion broadband infrastructure project.
Nepad hopes that once the implementation of ICT policy harmonization is achieved, it will become easier to get support for its broadband project from member countries.
Nepad has identified ICT as a priority and has established a task force to coordinate the implementation of ICT projects. But the organization's broadband project has failed to get moving as many countries fear that signing on to it will mean changing their monopoly regulatory policies.
"Zambia has already ended the monopoly by the incumbent operator Zamtel through the establishment of a law that gives powers to the Communications Authority of Zambia to handle all communication agreements instead of Zamtel," said Geoffrey Lungwangwa, Zambia's communications and Transport Minister.
The Nepad broadband project sets out a policy and regulatory framework for the region. Plans include the establishment of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) that will own, operate and manage the network.
If the harmonization of policies is accomplished, most African governments will no longer be able to protect incumbent operators from competition with private service providers. This in turn is expected to result in high quality communication services and reduce the high cost of communications, including the cost of bandwidth. The Nepad project hopes to connect all African countries to a communication network that stretches from South Africa to Rwanda. The network will operate on top of a submarine cable network system that will run along the east African coast.
Nepad also wants all countries to have equal access to the cable regardless of their distance from the cable's landing points on the east coast.
Last year, the African Union through Nepad invited all African countries to agree to the Kigali protocol in order to get the project off the ground. But fewer than 15 countries out of over 45 have signed the protocol. The Kigali protocol is the policy and regulatory framework agreement through which African countries can coordinate regulations and facilitate the construction and operation of regional broadband services. Countries are, however, shying away from signing the protocol, fearing that incumbent operators will be forced to close due to increased competition.
MOBILE phone usage in Africa has increased dramatically over the past five years, with Tanzania accounting for 5 per cent of mobile phone subscribers in the sub-Saharan region, according to a new study.
By the end of 2008, Africa had 246 million mobile subscriptions, and mobile penetration has risen from just five per cent in 2003 to well over 30 per cent today, says a report released in Johannesburg by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) last week. The ITU research shows that African countries are facing a number of challenges in increasing information communication technology (ICT) levels. These include lack of full liberalization of markets and limited availability of infrastructure, such as shortage of international Internet bandwidth.
The 76-page report says Nigeria has the highest number of subscribers (26%), followed by South Africa (19%) and Kenya (7%).
In addition to funding the development of various ICT projects in Southern Africa, India has also started pumping money into electricity generation projects to boost the region's power supply.
Due to lack of investment in renewable energy and electricity generation, several Southern African countries including Zambia, Namibia and Malawi are faced with increased power shortages affecting ICT equipment, particularly in rural areas.
To ensure the region has enough electricity, Indian Vice President Mohammed Hamid Ansari has signed agreements with Southern African countries including Zambia and Malawi for electric power generation and renewable energy projects.
Ansari's tour of Southern African countries last week came in the wake of India's sponsorship of a pan-African e-network project. The project aims to connect all African countries to satellite and fiber-optic networks and to provide telemedicine, tele-education and video conferencing services for all heads of state in Africa as well as for students and doctors.
Indian companies are also providing computer training programs to Botswana and South Africa. The New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) plans to equip schools in Africa to promote e-learning projects, but power problems stand in the way.
Many African governments have been facing a challenge raising funds to buy generators to power ICT equipment. However, Indian companies are moving in to help the situation through investments in ICT and electricity generation projects.
"The Zambian government is providing a conducive environment for Indian companies' investments," said Zambian Vice President George Kunda.
In August last year, Zambia joined more than 30 countries in Africa that will benefit from the pan-African e-network plan. The project, which was first launched in South Africa, Mauritius, Ethiopia and Ghana, will cost the Indian government more than US$125 million, although the project will likely demand $1 billion in total.
After five years, the Indian government will withdraw from the project to allow African countries to run it on their own, using their own financial and human resources.
Ansari's visit to Zambia saw the Indian government giving Zambia a $50 million loan facility to develop the 120-megawatt Itezhi Tezhi hydro power station, aimed at increasing the country's power generation capacity to power ICT projects, among others. The Itezhi Tezhi hydro power project is a joint venture between Zambia's state-owned power utility company, Zesco, and Tata Africa Holdings, an Indian company involved in ICT and electric power generation in Africa.
In Southern Africa, Tata Communications already owns a 56 percent stake in South Africa's second national operator, Neotel, and there are plans by the company to expand its communication services in many countries in Africa, especially those countries that are getting financial support from India.
"The future growth areas that Tata Africa is looking at are information technology and electricity generation," said Raman Dhawan, managing director at Tata Africa Holdings.
Considering China is making great inroads into the African ICT market through ZTE and Huawei, Dhawan noted that a possible way for India to increase its presence in Africa was for public and private companies to join hands.
To showcase its muscle and financial ability to further expand in the African telecom market, Tata has also set up a point of presence (POP) in Nairobi, Kenya, to route traffic to other African countries without passing through London.