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Assessment of Internet-based tele-medicine in Africa (the RAFT project)

Auteurs: Cheick Oumar Bagayoko, Henning M¨uller , Antoine Geissbuhler

The objectives of this paper on the Réseau en Afrique Francophone de Télémedecine (RAFT) project are the evaluation of feasibility, potential, problems and risks of an Internet-based tele-medicine network in developing countries of Africa. The RAFT project was started inWestern African countries 5 years ago and has now extended to other regions of Africa as well (i.e. Madagascar, Rwanda). A project for the development of a national tele-medicine network in Mali was initiated in 2001, extended to Mauritania in 2002 and to Morocco in 2003. By 2006, a total of nine countries are connected. The entire technical infrastructure is based on Internet technologies for medical distance learning and tele-consultations.

The results are a tele-medicine network that has been in productive use for over 5 years and has enabled various collaboration channels, including North-to-South (from Europe to Africa), South-to-South (within Africa), and South-to-North (from Africa to Europe) distance learning and tele-consultations, plus many personal exchanges between the participating hospitals and Universities. It has also unveiled a set of potential problems: (a) the limited importance of North-to-South collaborations when there are major differences in the available resources or the

socio-cultural contexts between the collaborating parties; (b) the risk of an induced digital divide if the periphery of the health system in developing countries is not involved in the development of the network; and (c) the need for the development of local medical content management skills.

Particularly point (c) is improved through the collaboration between the various countries as professionals from the medical and the computer science field are sharing courses and resources. Personal exchanges between partners in the project are frequent, and several persons received an education at one of the partner Universities.

As conclusion, we can say that the identified risks have to be taken into account when designing large-scale tele-medicine projects in developing countries. These problems can be mitigated by fostering South–South collaboration channels, by the use of satellite-based Internet connectivity in remote areas, the appreciation of local knowledge and its publication on-line. The availability of such an infrastructure also facilitates the development of other projects, courses, and local content creation.

References: Cheick Oumar Bagayoko, Computerized Medical Imaging and Graphics 30 (2006) 407–416

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