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BOTSWANA TELEMEDICINE - NEED TO BE "IDEALISTIC AND REALISTIC"

   If Telemedicine technology is properly implemented in Botswana medical services will be better accessible to the public, a Canadian expert in telehealth, Dr Rod Elford said last week.

  Elford who was speaking during the second phase of the Telemedicine Stakeholders Consultative Conference last week said that before implementation there was a need to have a clear vision, be idealistic and realistic.

  Telemedicine is the use of information and communications technology to deliver health services and exchange health information when distance separates the participants.

  However, Elford said that there were still tremendous health needs, including limited number and uneven distribution of health professionals.  Elford said the geography of land and population distribution presents challenges for the provision of health care services in Botswana .

  He said there was a shortage of health professionals, adding that there were 3 physicians per 10,000 patients, 28 nurses per 10,000 and 7 family welfare educators per 10,000.

  He said there was uneven distribution of health professionals as most people work in urban facilities.

  Elford said 288 facilities under the Ministry of Local Government have a telephone while 187 communicate by radio.

  Power is available at 206 facilities while 107 use solar power.

  Local Government oversees clinics, health posts and health stops and the Ministry of Health oversees the hospitals and nurse training.

  He said other constraints were limited resources in the rural health facilities, and limited power and telecommunication in those areas.

  Elford said there were also other issues such as limited telehealth experience.

  He said the government plans to provide health for all by 2016, stating 'access to preventative, promotive, curative and rehabilitative services by the year 2016.'

  He said for a National Telemedicine Centre to succeed there was a need for telemedicine professionals; physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, computer technicians, network technicians, software developers, programmers, web masters, educators, economists, public relations officers and researchers. It would be located in a single facility.

  For proper sustenance of telehealth, there is a need for the right conditions, reliable electricity, telecommunications, computer experience, telehealth education and training.

  Audio-conferencing would also be an advantage as a number of professionals would be able to connect at the same time for an educational talk, discuss a patient and for administrative meetings.

  Other facilities needed are a telephone, television, video-conferencing, telemetry and internet.

Mmegi