Ugandan doctors pilot electronic communications
Canadian-funded project facilitates clinic-to-clinic data transmission.
OTTAWA The launch of a nationwide, wireless
network to improve Ugandas ability to treat patients and
combat the spread of disease was recently announced. The network
is built around the countrys well-established cell phone
network, inexpensive handheld computers, and innovative wireless
servers called "Jacks." The technology allows health
care workers to access and share critical information in remote
facilities without fixed telephone lines or regular access to
The announcement was made by Canadas International
Development Research Centre (IDRC), WideRay,
a wireless technology company based in San Francisco, and
a non-profit organization focused on improving health in
The Jack servers, which are about the size of a thick textbook
and use long lasting industrial-grade batteries ¾
a single charge lasts up to a year ¾ are being installed
in health care facilities across Uganda. Health workers
can link to the device using the infrared port on their
handheld computers to retrieve or submit information, and
to access email.
"This is going to be a giant leap forward for Ugandan
health care. It could save thousands of lives and have significant
benefits in health outcomes for Ugandas citizens,"
said Holly Ladd, Executive Director of SATELLIFE.
This project will provide health practitioners in the field
with tools that were previously unavailable or outdated.
For example, users can now access the latest treatment guidelines
for tuberculosis and malaria and learn of the most cost-effective
approaches to fight HIV/AIDS, which infects one in 10 adults
in Uganda. They can also read the latest medical journals
and textbooks from around the world, in a digital form.
like many developing countries that lack the infrastructure
readily available in the developed world, is leapfrogging
traditional fixed-line communication networks and adopting
mobile, cellular technologies to provide communication
links to remote locations. There are already three competing
mobile-telephone service providers in the country, the
largest of which is MTN Uganda. The same networks that
are providing villages with their first voice connection
to the outside world are being used to deliver data
to where its needed most, to community health
Ugandas wireless health care
initiative is an expansion of SATELLIFE trials with
personal digital assistants (PDAs), or handheld computers,
that began in 2001. The projects concluded that PDAs,
which can be used in environments where computers
are impractical, are powerful tools that can provide
critical, timely information to African health workers.
The technology should also improve health care administration
by reducing the time taken to submit, analyze and respond to reports
and requests for supplies.
Recognizing the potential of this technology for Uganda, Connectivity
Africa, a Canadian government initiative managed by IDRC and funded
from Canadas Fund for Africa, contributed $761,000 CAD to
the development of this information network.
"The convergence of new technologies low-cost handhelds,
broad and reliable wireless coverage and WideRays innovative
use of it have made applications that once seemed impossible in
Africa a reality," said Richard Fuchs, Director of IDRCs
Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D)
program area. "This project will be a powerful example to
the rest of the world of what is possible with wireless technology."
Canadas International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
is one of the worlds leading institutions in the generation
and application of new knowledge to meet the challenges of international
development. For more than 30 years, IDRC has worked in close
collaboration with researchers from the developing world in their
search for the means to build healthier, more equitable, and more