Providing citizens with suitable education facilities and ensuring access to affordable health care are two major concerns of developing countries in Africa. Often, however, the countries lack the infrastructure that their governments need to provide these services to citizens, especially in remote areas. Recent advances in the provision of health care and medical education through the use of information and communications technology (ICT) offer countries viable alternatives. ICT enables them to deliver education and health care from resourceful urban areas and developed countries to inaccessible remote and rural areas, providing quality services in a timely and cost- effective manner. (http://www.panafricanenetwork.com/)
Towards a Solution
Since 2009, the Pan-African e-Network Project, an initiative sponsored by the Government of India, has been working with countries in Africa to adopt a solution suitable to their context. The project does this by harnessing ICT (via satellite and fibre- optic networks) to promote instant access to and sharing of experiences from India with African countries for education (tele-education) and health care (telemedicine) as well as for resource mapping, meteorology, e-governance and e-commerce. It is one of the largest e-health and e-education initiatives geographically and has the potential to reach a large population spread over 54 African countries.
The Pan-African e-Network Project offers an established global and regional network of expertise and tried and tested models and approaches that countries can access with the support of the Government of India and the sponsor company, Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL). It is a flagship project of the Government to promote good practices and knowledge transfer to Africa for the mutual benefit of all participating countries in order to overcome national development challenges in the delivery of health care and education, which are difficult for any country to tackle singlehandedly. By harnessing the power of ICT and broadband and satellite technology, the project allows medical and educational professionals immediate access to innovative systems, knowledge and information to treat patients and to train and educate students, especially in least developed countries. The project provides expert consultations and knowledge of best practices in health care to doctors and nurses in remote areas and aims to benefit 10,000 students over a five-year period in certificate, graduate and post-graduate courses delivered under the tele-education programme.
The project is implemented in phases and currently includes 48 member countries of the African Union Commission. Each country has one Learning Centre and one Patient End Location equipped with the latest ICT facilities for delivery of telemedicine and tele-education services. In addition, five regional university centres and five regional super specialty hospitals in participating countries are fully equipped to deliver lectures and educational programmes to all 48 African countries.
During implementation, TCIL organizes training programmes for African countries to familiarize their Telecom, ICT and paramedical staff with the equipment and networks that they will operate on a daily basis. Their training covers concepts, systems, architecture and operating procedures. The project also covers continuing education in medicine for practicing doctors and nurses in order to update and enhance their knowledge and skills. TCIL officials present in the participating countries train local manpower for regular operation and maintenance of the system. It is also possible to expand this network by adding appropriate systems and bandwidth to connect with government, businesses, merchants and banking systems in order to provide e-governance, e-commerce and infotainment services to people in African countries.
The phased implementation process supported through capacity-building and technical assistance facilitates the project take-up in interested countries. Based on network implementation experience in participating countries, major factors that facilitate replication include infrastructure availability, accessibility, availability of skilled manpower, connectivity, financial leverage and policy initiatives by local government to create awareness about the objectives of the network.
Over 19,268 students have registered for the educational programmes since 2008, and approximately 700 online medical consultations have taken place among doctors from various countries. Over 5,643 continuing medical education sessions have been conducted in different medical disciplines, 645 of them in French, for health-care institutions in participating countries. Accredited educational programmes delivered by universities in India have helped students of participating countries to gain new skills and knowledge and enhance their employability.
Pan-African e-Network Project stakeholders and their roles include:
- Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, client/sponsor: approvals for funds and their distribution;
- African Union Commission: coordinating and guiding authority for African countries;
- Member countries of the African Union Commission: supervision and monitoring of project deliverables;
- Participating university centres in India: preparation and delivery of e-content and educational programmes;
- Participating super specialty hospitals in India: provision of telemedicine services through online and offline consultations and CME programmes;
- Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL), implementing agency: project execution, operation and maintenance, and maintenance of services delivery.