Health care is one of the most promising areas for poverty alleviation with ICTs, based largely as it is on information resources and knowledge. There are many ways in which ICTs can be applied to achieve desirable health outcomes. ICTs are being used in developing countries to facilitate remote consultation, diagnosis and treatment.
Physicians in remote locations can take advantage of the professional skills and experiences of colleagues and collaborating institutions . Health workers in developing countries are accessing relevant medical training through ICT-enabled delivery mechanisms. Several new malaria Internet sites for health professionals include innovative teach and test self-assessment modules.
Centralized data repositories connected to ICT networks enable remote healthcare professionals to keep abreast of the rapidly evolving stock of medical knowledge. When applied to disease prevention and epidemic response efforts, ICT can provide considerable benefits and capabilities. Public broadcast media such as radio and television have a long history of effectively facilitating the dissemination of public health messages and disease prevention techniques in developing countries. The Internet can also be utilized to improve disease prevention by enabling more effective monitoring and response mechanisms.
The World Health Organization and the world’s six biggest medical journal publishers are providing access to vital scientific information to close to 100 developing countries they otherwise could not afford. The arrangement allows almost 1,000 of the world’s leading medical and scientific journals to become available through the Internet to medical schools and research institutions in developing countries for free or at deeply reduced rates. Previously, biomedical journal subscriptions, both electronic and print, were priced uniformly for medical schools, research centres and similar institutions irrespective of geographical location. Annual subscription prices cost on average several hundred dollars per title. Many key titles cost more than US$1500 per year. This has made it all but impossible for the large majority of health and research institutions in the poorest countries to access critical scientific information.
Apollo Hospitals has set up a telemedicine centre at Aragonda in Andhra Pradesh, to offer medical advice to the rural population using ICTs. The centre links healthcare specialists with remote clinics, hospitals and primary care physicians to facilitate medical diagnosis and treatment. The rural telemedicine centre caters to the 50,000 people living in Aragonda and the surrounding six villages. As part of the project the group has constructed a 50 bed multi-speciality hospital at the village with CT scan, X-ray, eight bed intensive care unit and a blood bank. It also has equipment to scan, convert and send data images to the tele-consultant stations at Chennai and Hyderabad. The centre provides free health screening camps for detection of a variety of diseases. There is a VSAT facility at Aragonda for connectivity to Hyderabad and Chennai. The scheme is available to all the families in the villages at a cost of Re 1 per day for a family of five.
In Ginnack, a remote island village on the Gambia River, nurses use a digital camera to take pictures of symptoms for examination by a doctor in a nearby town. The physician can send the pictures over the Internet to a medical institute in the UK for further evaluation. X-ray images can also be compressed and sent through existing ICT for daily cases of meningitis to monitor emerging epidemics. When threshold levels are reached, mass vaccination is required and the Internet is used to rapidly mobilize medical personnel and effectively coordinate laboratories and specialist services.
In Andhra Pradesh again, handheld computers are enabling auxiliary nurse midwives to eliminate redundant paperwork and data entry, freeing time to deliver health care to poor people. Midwives provide most health services in the state s vast rural areas, with each serving about 5,000 people, typically across multiple villages and hamlets. They administer immunizations, offer advice on family planning, educate people on motherchild health programs, and collect data on birth and immunization rates. Midwives usually spend 15 20 days a month collecting and registering data. But with handheld computers they can cut that time by up to 40 percent, increasing the impact and reach of limited resources .