- Workers in Uganda's most remote health facilities, without telephone lines or electricity, have been enabled to access and share critical information via a pilot project that includes data and e-mail sent over the GSM network. The project, which now may be extended to all of Uganda, has won an award for best use of mobile technology.
Ugandan physicians and healthcare workers stationed at remote health centres successfully have been testing the technology innovation for several months. Without access to telephone lines or electricity, their hand-held personal digital assistants (PDAs) let them communicate with the entire world, retrieve content, access email and submit information.
The PDAs - inexpensive handheld computers - are equipped with the newest in GSM technology, which enables them to connect directly to the cellular phone network - which is very well developed in Uganda. The technology, especially developed by the California-based wireless company WideRay, thus gives physicians a limited internet access even in regions without electricity and telephone.
The pilot project was launched by the International Development Research Centre and was co-financed by the Canadian government. It involved the distribution of 200 PDAs to Ugandan health workers in the remote districts of Rakai and Mbale. Other contributors to the project included WideRay and the Makarere University medical school at Kampala.
The Ugandan Ministry of Health has shown keen interest in the project and has indicated that it may be extended to the entire country if results from the pilot project are deemed positive. A possible wireless network of health stations would facilitate nation-wide surveys, the reporting of emergencies and outbreaks from the field and between health districts and improve administration of the national health service.
WideRay is optimistic about the 7-month pilot project, which is set to end and be evaluated by May this year. The participating organisations will have a thorough look on the real use of the wireless PDAs and whether it actually has helped medical staff in their work. If the evaluation is positive, WideRay may receive an order of up to 5000 PDAs to be distributed throughout Uganda.
A national implementation would also include the installation of so-called jacks at health centres throughout the country. The battery-powered devices, also developed by WideRay, are servers for local-area wireless application using a GSM-based platform. A central server is to be installed in Kampala.
WideRay yesterday announced that its development of the Ugandan wireless healthcare network had been honoured at the 2004 3GSM World Congress for the "Best Use of Mobile Technology for Emergency Situations". Saul Kato, CEO of the San Francisco-based company said the award had been "a great honour for WideRay and all the partners involved in this very important programme."
- There are literally millions of points of presence in the world where on-location wireless data services provide immense value, but the costly deployment of a broadband back-end and administrative resources is not feasible and often impossible, continued Mr Kato. "Our work in Uganda is a graphic illustration of this reality and a perfect example of the types of scalable, distributed systems that our technology enables for the first time."
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