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Telemedicine project with links to 53 remote African hospitals launched

Special Correspondent

Online medical consultation for about 79,000 hours envisaged

— Photo: R. Ragu

Director and Chairman of the Cardiac Care Centre at Sri Ramachandra University S. Thanikachalam delivers the first CME lecture on cardiac care at the university, in Chennai on Wednesday.

CHENNAI: The Pan-African e-Network Project for Telemedicine was launched at Sri Ramachandra University (SRU), here on Wednesday.

SRU is one of the 12 super specialty hospitals that will connect 53 remote hospitals in Africa to provide tele-healthcare, continuing medical education (CME) and training programmes for nurses and paramedical staff in these nations.

Launching the network, N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief, The Hindu, said the Pan-African e-Network was an “excellent idea.” India had experience in meeting the challenges in education and health within the country and the quality and integrity of our professionals was an enviable resource.

He added that it would not be a one-way communication channel, but that India could also learn a great deal from Africa on addressing the challenges of mass deprivation.

Mr. Ram said there was tension between the need to enhance access and to provide quality services (both in the practice and teaching of medicine). It was necessary to reconcile these two challenges. Telemedicine was a powerful tool for that. It was no surprise that the SRU had been in the forefront of the project, as its commitment to quality and promoting access had contributed largely to its success over the last 25 years, he added.

At the 2004 Pan-African parliament in Johannesburg, the then President of India APJ Abdul Kalam proposed to connect all the 53 nations of the African Union through satellite and fibre optic network to provide effective telemedicine, tele-education and Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) services, apart from supporting e-governance and e-commerce initiatives.

Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd (TCIL), a government of India enterprise, will put in place the basic architecture for the programme and continue to provide support.

J.S. Chhabra, Executive Director, TCIL, said the network envisaged capacity-building in Africa. Part of this would be providing education to 10,000 students over five years; online medical consultation for about 79,000 hours; offline advice to five patients per day in each country for three years; and CME programmes for doctors and nurses. A total of 44 African countries have already joined the project, he added.

K. Selvakumar, Professor of Neurosurgery, and Chairman, Telemedicine, SRU, said the varsity’s telemedicine project got a major fillip after the tie-up with ISRO in 2001. Currently, links have been established with 165 centres in India, including 35 major hospitals. Regular interaction was also on with reputed medical centres across the world. Last year, the mobile telemedicine programme was launched and connections were established with rural areas.

S. Rangaswami, Vice-Chancellor, SRU, said the institution, which was now entering its 25th year, was among the first few to start telemedicine, way back in 1997. V. R. Venkataachalam, Chancellor, SRU, felicitated Mr. Ram.

Later the first CME lecture on the Pan-African e-Network Project for Telemedicine on cardiac care was delivered by S. Thanikachalam, Director and Chairman, Cardiac Care Centre, SRU.

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