April 2007

INDIA UPDATE

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India gets a radio station on disaster management

The country's first radio station on disaster management was launched on 23 February 2007, in Chennai. The radio station would help in the preparedness for impending disasters for the population of the infamous, tsunamiscarred district of Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu. The station will operate from Vizhundhamavadi, a nondecript village of the given district. Known as Kalanjiyam, the community radio station was a product of financial assistance of United Nations Development Programme to the Maduraibased Dhan Foundation. The local people have also pitched in with their active assistance.

The Dhan Foundation has already trained radio volunteers among the local youngsters, of which, many of them were victims of tsunami. The radio station would work as a warning system, and will aim to inform the local populace of Nagapattinam on how to cope with disasters. Initially the daily broadcast will be of half-an-hour duration, which later will be increased to an hour. Following the granting of license by the Union Government to the foundation, the broadcast will go up to six hours a day. Initially, the radio station's broadcasting range would cover a radius of around two kilometers through narrow casting, but later when the station graduates to a fully broadcast mode, it would cover a radius of up to 20-kilometers.  

Concern over delay in telemedicine standards

Though three years have passed since the framing of the path- reaking draft report by the Department of Information Technology (DIT), which defined standards for telemedicine in India, they are still not notified. This is impeding the growth of telemedicine in India, which undoubtedly has huge potential. According to Rajeeva Ratna Shah, the Member-Secretary, Planning Commission, “a large number of telemedicine projects have been initiated in the country by both private and public players but they are scattered and based on different software protocols.”

A uniform standard would help different systems to network with each other. However it is expected that these standards would graduate from paper to practice by the end of the 11th plan, where, the senior bureaucrat assured, there are substantial allocations for e- ealth. However, simply funding is not enough, the focus and direction of the funding is equally important. Shah very pragmatically opined that the growth of telemedicine would depend on the availability of appropriate bandwidth, protocols of time-sharing and conceptualization and execution of suitable business models. These are other infrastructral lacunae, preventing the growth of telemedicine in India.  

Mapping Healthcare Needs of Malappuram

Media Lab Asia, a non-profit R&D organization, which is functioning under DIT of Government of India, has undertaken an ambitious project to map the healthcare needs of Malappuram district of Kerala. The project would use ICT for collecting information on prevalent diseases in Malappuram, and also on the available treatments. This project is a collaborative effort between Media Lab Asia and the state government's e-literacy program called Akshya. The Medialab would also be collaborating with the Center for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) and a host of non-governmental organizations for the purpose. 

The field agents will record medical data of the people of the district on their personal digital assistants(PDAs) and the data would be sent to a central database. These data will act as as an yardstick of medical history and of the present development in the health sector of the given district, and will also be used as a record for ready reference, for research and development purposes. 

Pune to go the telemedicine way

Pune district of Maharashtra will have an ambitious telemedicine project in the near future. The union government has decided to connect all the community health centers (CHCs) in the Pune district with super-specialty hospitals, through telemedicine and telecounselling. Talks are already on with the super-speciality hospitals like Ruby Hall Clinic and Aundh Chest Hospital.

With the help of computing infrastructure and medical equipment, the CHCs across the Pune district will send medical reports like ECG, images of scans, etc. to specialists in the super-specialty hospitals. The specialists will then diagnose the patients remotely, on the basis of those inputs, and suitably advise the doctors at the CHCs on the treatment.

However, this ambitious pilot project is inspired by the telemedicine initiatives of the Grameen Rugnalaya Centre in Baramati. Baramati, a quaint town of Maharashtra located 120 km from Pune, is a recent success story in development. Thanks to Intel (which has conceptualized this initiative, and is providing the technology and consultancy services for this initiative) a pilot project was introduced in the Baramati's community health center, in November 2006. Baramati CHC has been connected with Bangalore-based Narayana Hrudyalaya and Madurai-based Aravind Eye Hospital through IT. In Baramati, through the help of ICT, the patients have availed the expertise of specialists from Arvind Eye Hospital in Madurai and Narayana Hridayalaya in Bangalore. This tele-diagnostics in ophthalmology and cardiology has immensely contributed to the welfare of the people in Baramati. So far more than 2000 people have addressed their problems through tele-diagnostics, from this Baramati CHC.

This union government funded project for the Pune district has an estimated cost of Rs. 10 lakh per center. The implementation of this pilot project is expected to take place in the next six to nine months. This telemedicine project will also facilitate the maintenance of electronic record of the patient's medical history and bring transparency in the supply chain of drugs and vaccines.  

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