Telemedicine initiative for sub-Saharan Africa

June 28, 2006

The first meeting of the Telemedicine Task Force for sub-Saharan Africa was held in Brussels on 23 June 2006. In the conclusions of the Telemedicine workshop held in Brussels on 27 January 2006, where the potential of satellite telecommunication technology was demonstrated as a tool for supporting healthcare systems in sub-Saharan Africa, it was declared that a complete picture of the telemedicine opportunities offered by feasible and affordable applications in sub-Saharan Africa is very much needed.

To achieve this goal, a task force, named Telemedicine Task Force (TTF) for sub-Saharan Africa and composed of the relevant African Organizations, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Commission (EC) and ESA has been set up to define a framework of appropriate actions for a telemedicine programme in the sub-Saharan African region and to support the definition of a cost-benefit study to evaluate the relevance of a pan-African network for telemedicine.

Opened with a message of good wishes sent by Stefano Manservisi, EC Director General of Development, the meeting was held in the Conference Centre Albert Borschette. The participants included representatives of some regional African economic communities (the East African Community (EAC) and the Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa (Communauté Économique et Monétaire de l'Afrique Centrale - CEMAC)), the African Bank of Development, the ACP (Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific) Secretariat, the WHO (Headquarters and African regional office), the EC (Directorate-General of Development, Directorate-General of Information Society and Media, and Directorate-General of Enterprise and Industry) and ESA (Directorate of European Union and Industrial Programmes).

The TTF for sub-Saharan Africa decided, in this meeting, to carry out the following tasks:

to draw upon WHO and country assessments of the status of the existing health infrastructures in the sub-Saharan African region and identify, in consultation with relevant stakeholders, areas where telemedicine development could add value to assess the status of the existing telecommunications infrastructure in the sub-Saharan African region and describe its potential and geographical scope to support health system development, particularly focusing on increasing access to services for poor, rural or remote communities to review the existing telemedicine programs exploited in the area of interest, to consider development cost to date and the potential resources implications of expanding services to draw upon the WHO's existing data on health policy priorities for each country/region, and identify opportunities for telemedicine to support nationally defined objectives and priorities.

The TTF for sub-Saharan Africa activities will be complemented by the following studies:
an analysis of the cost benefits of the implementation of a satellite based network of telemedicine for each country/region, to be funded by the European Development Fund (EDF) a study of a system architecture, and related costs, of a satellite based network of telemedicine at country/region/pan-African level to be funded by ESA. Some preliminary assumptions for this study were presented in the meeting by the industrial consortium and discussed with the African stakeholders

The next two meetings of the TTF for sub-Saharan Africa are scheduled for 22 September and before the end of November, to be held in Europe and in Africa with the operational support of the WHO.

The final report of the TTF for sub-Saharan Africa should be available before the end of this year and it should be presented to the African Ministers in order to support the political decision process.
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