It is well understood that developing countries often have a wide spectrum of basic needs requiring improvement, mainly in terms of infrastructure and other fundamental aspects such as, nutrition, hygiene, housing, education, and so on. The existence of these needs, however, does not mean that putting the benefits of information technologies at the disposal of the developing world should be postponed indefinitely until other desirable improvements have been attained.
The application of telecommunication and informatics is of major relevance to Africa, Latin America, and other developing countries. It has the potential to improve not only the quality of healthcare, but also to help the fight against the major health scourges which often affect these countries. More importantly, the information and communications revolution which is now just a part of everyday life in the West can help to lead both advanced and developing countries towards a new society – the global information society – which in turn will contribute to the smooth integration of developing countries into the global economy as well as enabling the leapfrogging of some stages of technologies.
This book aims to show that the information society is not just an idea that is relevant to rich and developed countries – on the contrary – exploring the health problems and delivery of the health services of vital importance in developing countries can be better understood and tackled with the help of health informatics and telematics.
Is the information society just an idea that is relevant to rich and developed countries? By exploring the way in which health problems and the delivery of health services - which are of vital importance in developing countries - can be better understood and tackled with the help of health informatics and telematics, this book intends to prove the opposite. The book is also an exploration on how the European Union can make a contribution in this respect under the framework of its different policies and lines of action.
It is well understood that developing countries have a wide spectrum of basic needs waiting to be fulfilled, mainly in terms of infrastructures, nutrition, hygiene, housing, capital, manpower education, and so on, even if the intensity of some necessities over the others vary from one country or region to another. However, the former should not preclude that the benefits of information and telecommunication technologies are placed at the disposal of the developing world, nor should these be postponed indefinitely until other conditions would be attained.
The application of telecommunication and informatics (telematics) in the area of Health is of major relevance to Africa, Latin America, and other developing countries. It has the potential for improving not only the quality of health care, but also to help fight against major health scourges affecting these countries. More importantly, the information and communications revolution we witness everyday, will lead both advanced and developing countries inexorably towards a new society - the global information society. The latter will contribute to an easier integration of developing countries into the global economy as well as leapfrogging stages of technologies.
To meet this challenge, the European Community is fully committed to co-operation with developing countries. Our aims are to deliver a smooth and effective transition towards the information society and to help developing countries reap its benefits . A special effort will be required to ensure the involvement of developing countries in this new endeavour. This involvement was stressed at the “G-7 Conference on the Information Society”, hosted by the European Commission in Brussels on the 25-26th of February 1995. The Conference recognised the necessity of world-wide cooperation paying particular attention to less developed countries.
The presence of distinguished personalities at the G-7 conference gives an encouraging example of the prospects for this North-South collaboration: amongst the European leaders, there was the Past President of the European Commission Jacques Delors, father of the White Paper on Growth Competitiveness and Employment, that opened the way for the information society in Europe, and as a remarkable representative of countries in transition and developing nations, the Vice President of the Republic of South Africa Thabo Mbeki, which delivered a powerful address to this outstanding gathering and launched the idea to hold an Information Society Conference in South Africa at the beginning of 1996 with a cross-section of developing countries.
This book is mainly but not exclusively, the result of a study supported by the European Commission Directorate General XIII, Telecommunications, Information Market and Exploitation of Results, that was carried out by a team of scientists from Latin America, Africa and Europe, under the co-ordination of Prof. Jeffrey Levett. The initiative, entitled “EpiAim - Health, Epidemiology and Telematics: European Co-operation with Latin America and Africa, in Collaboration with WHO”, embraced a variety of subjects giving it therefore a highly multi-sectoral flavour.
The study benefited also from the input provided by other European Commission services, namely DG XII-Science and Research through its office “Life Sciences and Technologies for Developing Countries” and DG VIII-Development through its office “Health and struggle against AIDS”. The support provided by relevant international organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), helped to reflect the perceptions and views of the main bodies that are active in this field. This experience and publication represents a fine example of fruitful collaboration between the European Commission services and the WHO in matters of mutual concern.
The contributors to this book provide some very interesting examples describing the current situation and trends in health telematics in Africa and Latin America, while at the same time addressing the broader issue of co-operation with Europe. A wide variety of topics are discussed. The cases range from providing cheap access to the world's largest medical knowledge databases via electronic mail, to applying computer-based mathematical and simulation models to understand and tackle the complexities of some tropical diseases. The production of multimedia training materials for health workers, the use of satellites to link hospitals from countries with poor telecommunications infrastructure to centres of excellence, the possibilities of teleradiology and telepathology to assist in diagnosis, are other good examples of the broad coverage of this timely publication.
It is my personal conviction that governments and other social actors in developing countries understand the key role of telecommunications as a cornerstone to boost economic and social development. I had the opportunity to observe this at first hand during the discussions that took place in Cairo in 1994 at the ocassion of the Africa Telecom conference. Looking into the future, I think that this book will stimulate those who are willing to have a vision and an understanding of the opportunities for cooperation in telematics between Europe and developing countries. It has been stressed that health, alongside other critical social sectors such as education, are some of the main domains where these technologies can prove their benefits. I hope that the material in this book will help understand the issues in question and provide an opportunity for sharing experiences. If this book provokes new ideas and projects, it would have fulfilled our aims.
Director General, Telecommunications, Information Market and Exploitation of Results European Commission DG XIII
R.O.A. Makanjuola, M. Korpela, H.A. Soriyan, M.A. Adekunle
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Informatics and telematics technologies are today successfully applied in many ways in health care in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, most of the use is based on standard packages - text processing, statistics packages, CD-ROM literature data bases, etc. There is a dearth of appropriate systems for management and planning, and little experience on how to benefit from such systems. In this paper we present an operational Hospital Information System, and discuss how the information in it can best be used.
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