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ITU Brings Telemedicine to Uganda

The minister of state for health of Uganda, F. Byaruhanga, inaugurated in August, leads the country's first telemedicine pilot project between the University Teaching Hospital of Mulago and Mengo Hospital in downtown Kampala.

In his inauguration address, Minister Byaruhanga praised the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for cooperating to enable his country to harness the latest information technology for a tangible humanitarian cause that could help save lives. He also urged greater coordination and synergy among development partners and called upon Uganda’s national telemedicine steering committee to work out the institutional framework in which all stakeholders can participate. “The challenge is for the private sector to take keen interest in the new ICT [information and communication technology] tools,” he said.

With public health expenditure reaching a mere $4 per inhabitant and health services heavily burdened by preventable public health disorders, the Ministry of Health adopted an ambitious plan to strengthen health services at all levels.

“The project aims at showing how telecommunication and information technology applications such as telemedicine can help overcome some of the serious shortages in health care services in developing countries,” says Hamadoun Touré, director of ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau.

The pilot project is part of a strategy to provide specialist care in surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology, and internal medicine in regional referral hospitals whose medical teams can afford only one or two specialists. It is estimated that 50 percent of all 800 doctors are in Kampala, while 60 percent of nurses are in rural areas. With a high maternal mortality rate ranging from 500 to 2,000 deaths per 100,000 births and an infant mortality rate of 97 per 1,000, the need to improve medical delivery and to optimize limited medical resources is essential.

The pilot project also aims at providing access to other specialties currently unavailable such as psychiatry, anesthesiology, and ophthalmology.

The project is expected to be further expanded to cover other hospitals in both the capital, Kampala, and regional hospitals and dispensaries located in rural areas.

Along with the ISDN point-to-point data link between the Mulago and Mengo hospitals, a health management information system will be set up to enable medical personnel to share knowledge, experience, and information rapidly and efficiently.

The telemedicine equipment was provided through the ITU technical assistance program in partnership with Uganda’s Ministry of Health and Uganda Telecom.

For more information, contact Joseph Elotu Head at joseph.elotu@itu.int.

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