Telemedicine, A Middle East perspective

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Africa Telehealth Conference 2010 held at Cairo discussed many important and interesting topics related to telemedicine in the MENA region. During the conference, many presentations were made by professors from different countries. They discussed the adoption of telehealth in Middle East and Africa, the benefits and the challenges affecting that adoption. Each professor mentioned his experience in this field and what are the right steps to adopt telemedicine in the region in a professional way. They also highlighted the importance of communicating with expertise in this field in order to avoid the mistakes of the previous trials using telehealth.

Current situation of Telemedicine in Sudan:

During the presentation of Dr. Abdelmoniem Sahal, Chairman of E-health group in Sudan, he discussed the current situation of telemedicine in Sudan. He mentioned that the adoption of telemedicine started in 2005 and it has been improving since then. He also discussed the challenges facing Sudanese healthcare providers in adopting telemedicine and how they should work to overcome these obstacles in order to improve the adoption of telemedicine in more extended way to gain more of its benefits. When we asked Dr. Abelmoniem about his impression regarding the event he said “It is an excellent opportunity to listen to the experience of the other expertise who work in this field from different countries in the world “He also mentioned that “beginning from 2005, we faced many obstacles during teleheath adoption. But starting form this year there is a new beginning,  I expect a strong coordination with Egypt and more benefits gained from the Pakistani initiative, and we are looking forward to improve working on the African Arabian network “

Dr. Abdelmoniem added that the main challenges that are facing Middle East and Africa are: 1-the huge fees demanded by mobile network providers.  2- The different issues related to Human resources, including non existence of expertise in the field of telemedicine, the lack of training programs. The 3rd challenge is the limited awareness of the importance of telemedicine and its role in healthcare which creates difficulty in finding aid from the public and the government.

How Telemedicine helped in recent flood disaster in Pakistan:

Professor Dr. Asif Zafar, Head of Department of Surgery, Project Director Telemedicine & e-Health Training Center Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, discussed during his presentation the use of telemedicine in his country, giving an example of the e-learning training center at the Holy Family Hospital. He mentioned that Pakistan has experience in using telemedicine to provide healthcare services in a number of remote and rural areas. He highlighted how telemedicine training center at the hospital plays an important role, this center helped in training 100 doctors and nurses in two weeks time. In addition, Dr. Zafar focused on how telemedicine in Pakistan played a significant role during the recent natural disasters, and how it helped in providing healthcare services in flooded regions. He added that telemedicine lead to decrease cost affect on the patient and on the healthcare facilities in addition to decreasing the number of migrates from the affected regions.  
In a presentation from India, titled “International teleradiology highlighting the role of telemedicine” Dr. Ashis Dhawad focused on the importance of telemedcince and how the Middle East and Africa can use the experience of Western countries such as US and Canada to gain more benefits.

During the conference, we talked with Dr. E. Lyle Gross, MD, FRCPC, Physical medicine and Rehabilitation adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Dr. Gross mentioned that “In many ways similar to large countries where there Is a lot of space we need to connect people together and the future is going to be that all communities no matter how large or how small they are, particularly small communities, will benefit from the specialists and consultants in larger centers and when we don’t have the answers we can consult our colleagues in other parts of the world. So the cost savings to government, to insurance, and to people will be increased “

Dr .Gross added that “who can make these changes are leaders in business, leaders who provide the service, leaders in technology and leaders in the government. We have to bring them together and see people implement this. I believe that the private and the public working together is critical“

In addition, Dr.Gross said that “There are organizations not just hospitals that I have met and Telemed Providers is one of those organizations that is trying to bring all the key players together to provide a hub of service to both private and public “

During the event Andrew Graley, Regional director, Polycom mentioned that this conference has been a great opportunity because it illustrated that a lot of professional people, medical and paramedics, in the Middle East and Africa recognized that there is such a benefit from quick and also high quality telemedicine because it can save lives. He also mentioned that the future of telemedicine in Middle East and Africa is bright.

In an interesting practical experience of videoconferencing using FVC Egypt equipment, Dr. Ryan Spaulding, from the University of Kansas School of Medicine Telemedicine Center, gave a live presentation and demo from Kansas explaining different type of telemedicine equipment and services the center has been using over the past few years and how affective it had been in improving patient care, particularly the home based elderly patients.

Use of Telemedicine in Burkino Faso, West Africa:

Dr. Peter Van Dingenen who is originally from Belgium but currently a volunteer medical specialist working in remove West Africa at Burkina Faso, explained how he and his team are helping the community in Burkina Faso to reach better medical care using simple telemedicine techniques and equipment.  He gave practical examples of many cases that were cured within days and weeks after they approached the affected areas and these cases had been there since years and were not treated because of lack of education and facilities.

When we asked Dr. Oryema Johnson, MD, Texas Telehealth Technologies, USA about his impression regarding the event he said that it has been a successful event and he is impressed with it. Dr. Johnson added that the future of telemedicine in the Middle East and Africa is very Bright. Moreover Dr. Johnson mentioned that adopting telemedicine in the Middle East and Africa will eliminate the patients from travelling abroad for consultation and it will improve the local economy because a lot of money will be spent locally in the Middle East and Africa.

Overall, we believe that the conference was a good place to network with similar and layout a foundation plan for telehealth in the region


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