Rwanda: Telemedicine Project On Track Year After Plan Was Hatched

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A year ago plans to connect Rwandan hospitals through telemedicine - the use of telecommunication and information technologies to provide distant clinical healthcare - were announced.

According to the plan, district hospitals across the country would start using the technology to treat patients without doctors necessarily meeting them physically. The technology, which helps improve access to medical services that would otherwise not be available especially in rural areas, was expected to link the health facilities across the country, with the national referral hospitals.

A study, a copy of which was availed to The New Times last year, was conducted in Butare between October 31 and November 14, 2011 and focused on technical and organisational feasibility of the project.

Following the study, which proved that the project can be practicable, a pilot study was set to be conducted for a period of three months starting on February 1, 2012 after which it was set to be extended to other district hospitals.

But almost 12 months after the project was announced, it is yet to start operating.

The project, Dr Richard Gakuba, the coordinator of E-Health in the Ministry of Health, says was delayed by the lack of the required infrastructure to support it.

"The fibre-optic network was not working properly in some districts," Dr Gakuba told The New Times in an interview.

High-speed broadband network is needed for a stable internet connection which is necessary for the project to take place.

But, Gakuba then hastened to add that now that the issue of internet seems to be resolved after the fibre-optic network became operational in some parts of the country, the project is set to start 'soon' in some district hospitals.

"We have installed all required infrastructure in some hospitals and they are inter- connected," he stated.

According to Gakuba, the first hospitals to benefit from the project will be district hospitals offering practical training to students pursuing medical studies at higher learning institutions.

However, this would be possible only if all the hospitals are connected to the national fibre-optic network.

So far, only 22 hospitals-which is about a half of all district hospitals across the country- have access to the high-speed internet connectivity, Gakuba said.