25 Zimbabwean health practitioners and ICT engineers are gathered here at MontClair in Inyanga courtesy of POTRAZ and ITU for a week long training in a bid to spearhead the telemedicine and e-health project which was given a sponsorship of a whopping $400 000 late last year.
The national project which seeks to roll out e-medicine and ehealth in Zimbabwe to all the provinces is set to benefit mostly Zimbabweans in remote areas who will soon be getting live consultation, tests and treatment remotely by regional doctors without them necessarily travelling to see the specialists.
The project which is now at a pilot stage and currently connected to two hospitals ,Tombo and Nyatate which are 45KM and 30KM away from the main Nyanga District hospital respectively are already connected and in full functionality.
By Delight Mawere
This project is set to connect 6 remote clinics in Nyanga and 6 clinics in Chimamani including Fombe clinic which is 150KM away from Nyanga District Hospital .These clinics will be connected to Parirenyatwa group of hospitals and Mutare hospital where more doctors and specialists are readily available.
The program falls inside the pilot testing and training stage which will then spearhead the connection of other remote clinics nationwide.
The advent of the telemedicine project was set to solve several problems in the health sector. These include the fact that doctors are a scarcity in remote clinics for example in Nyanga there is a population of 131 000 people with only 6 doctors responsible for their clinics and hospitals.
Another driving challenge included the poor road transport and distance factors which caused most patients in rural and remote areas to get poor and late medical attention .
The process of telemedicine incorporates processes of :
Telecardiology which is a modern medical practice, which uses the power of telecommunications to achieve remote diagnosis and treatment of heart disease. This includes coronary heart disease, chronic and acute, as well as arrhythmias, congestive cardiac failure and sudden cardiac arrest.In this situation, doctors and other healthcare providers use electrocardiographic data, which is transmitted remotely, in real time, for interpretation by a specialist.
Tele-Ultrasound which is the use of remote, real-time imaging by connecting a remote technician to a radiologist. The Telemedicine Directory index of TeleUltrasound specialists provides easy access to the worldwide network of Teleultrasound services.
Teleradiology which is the transmission of radiological patient images, such as x-rays, CTs, and MRIs, from one location to another for the purposes of sharing studies with other radiologists and physicians and lastly teleconsultation.
However, for the time being Zimbabwe is only practicing teleconsultation whereby the doctor can treat and diagnosis a sickness or problem without necessarily being present and it will be on a network or video link like SKYPE which is already being prototyped in Zimbabwe.
Countries like South Africa,Uganda and Nigeria have already adopted the telemedicine project with Zimbabwe still lagging behind in the adoption of this concept.
“Many countries in Africa and worldwide are adopting telemedicine and M-health.However, Zimabwe is considerably still lagging behind because of several challenges like infrastructure deficit, lack of education and digital illiteracy and therefore there is need for clear cut strategies to make it easier for the adoption and implementation of this initiative in the country,” said Mr Wikus vd Merwe who is the facilitator of the training programme and ITU consultant from South Africa .
The major district provincial hospitals use ADSL for internet connection while VSAT is used in remote clinics and web cameras.
In an interview with the head doctor at Nyanga District hospital,Mr Admore Jokwiro who was also a participant at the training ,expressed his fears with several challenges,
“This is a milestone in the health sector and local patients are embracing this fully with an average of 3-4 patients being treated daily though this. However, factors affecting the connectivity of these hospitals are poor speed and connection especially when it’s overcast and rainy while ZESA outages are a contributing factor as there will be need for solar energy,”
He urged local techies to jump at this opportunity and be able to introduce new local applications which they can use for easier communication and not depend on SKYPE only.