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By NEF Ambassador Chisomo Selemani (Zambia)

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The technology boom of the last two decades is undeniable.  By the end of this last year, 2015, globally there were more than 7 billion mobile telecommunication subscriptions, a giant leap from the turn of the century (International Telecommunication Union, 2015).  In 2000, there were less than 1 billion mobile telecommunication subscriptions worldwide (International Telecommunications Union, 2015).  In the same year, approximately 6.5% of the population used the internet.  In fifteen years, that number has increased seven-fold with approximately 43% of the global population having access to the internet (International Telecommunications Union, 2015).  Suffice it to say, that the integration of information communication’s technology (ICT) into the proverbial fabric of our global collective being is revolutionizing nearly every sector of interaction.  The current and changing landscape of ICT has begun to present opportunities in health care provision in innovative and creative capacities in Africa.

It is no secret that access to reliable health care can be difficult, especially in developing countries.  In some environments, the necessary expertise may not be on-hand to identify, assess, and treat various diseases and disorders.  Fortunately, there are institutions and programs in Africa that are not letting this reality impede progress.  As of 2013, there were 6 African countries that reported participating in relevant and groundbreaking technology to provide telecardiology services (Mars, 2013).    Three of these, Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique house six telecardiology centers established by the DREAM (Drug Resource Enhancement against Aids and Malnutrition) Project.  These institutions have existing relationships and work collaboratively with entities in Italy (Mars, 2013).  Hospitals in Mali, Uganda, and Morocco have also reported independent and collaborative efforts in providing telecardiology services (Mars, 2013).

What role does mobile technology play in telecardiology? And how does telecardiology work?  Those are great questions.  Mobile phones can be connected to various medical equipment and used to gather important patient data necessary for identification, assessment, and treatment of various cardiac diseases or disorders.  These types of equipment include pulse oximeters, electrocardiographic equipment, electronic stethoscopes, and ultrasound probes (Mars, 2013).  Information gathered from these can be sent to the necessary specialists and managed in real time or asynchronously (Mars, 2013, [1]).  Additionally, mobile phones can be used in reporting of assessment outcomes, monitoring patient compliance and drug adherence (Mars, 2013; Birati and Roth, 2011).    

With increased access to internet and mobile phones, researchers and practitioners in African health care facilities have begun to tread innovative waters in the process of breaking down long-existing barriers in service provision.  These strides in telecardiology are evidence of the surmounting creative ways that health care providers and researchers are wielding ICT to effect positive change in African communities.

References

[1]  Asynchronous management of information means that specialists can review and evaluate patient information and assessments at one time and then report their findings at another time.  For example, this would occur if assessment information was sent to the specialist via e-mail, evaluated, and then the evaluation returned to the collaborating partner via e-mail.

Birati EY, Roth A. (2011). Telecardiology. Israel Medical Association Journal, p. 498-503.

International Telecommunication Union.  (2015). ICT Facts & Figures Report: The world in 2015. Geneva, Switzerland.

Mars, M. (2013). Telemedicine and Advances in Urban and Rural Healthcare Delivery in Africa. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, p. 326-335.

Chisomo Selemani is a speech-language pathologist that specializes in early language and literacy development. Her prior work experiences include providing speech-language consultation services at Beit Cure Hospital and the University Teaching Hospital’s Department of Paediatrics and Child Health and Paediatric Centre of Excellence, in Lusaka, Zambia. In addition, she has been involved with research projects investigating cognitive-linguistic development in HIV-exposed children and literacy acquisition in multilingual children. Presently, she is working as an Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Baldwin Wallace University, in the United States.