In the world’s poorest countries, millions of people die every day simply because health workers do not have access to the information they need to heal and save lives. In 1989, Dr. Bernard Lown, a world-renowned cardiologist, Harvard Professor, and Nobel Laureate, founded SATELLIFE (http://www.healthnet.org) to provide a solution to the global problem of ‘information poverty’ because he believed that no one should die when the knowledge exists to save them. In 1991, Dr. Lown and SATELLIFE took the bold and unprecedented step of launching a satellite in order to establish a two-way communication network for health workers in developing countries so that they could communicate with their peers and access a wealth of information to guide and improve their practice of healthcare. Since then, it has used a variety of other technologies, including handheld computers, to deliver critical health information to the world’s poorest countries. For sixteen years, thousands of health workers in developing countries who face a daily battle against diseases of poverty have relied on SATELLIFE to deliver a full spectrum of current, relevant, actionable, affordable health information and the technology tools to access it.
In November 2004, its commitment to leveraging new and existing technologies to improve global health was recognised by the Tech Museum in Silicon Valley. It was one of twenty-five organisations chosen out of 320 nominations from 80 countries to become a Tech Museum Awards Laureate, in honor of its pioneering work.
Through its HealthNet services,
SATELLIFE meets the critical information needs of health workers in countries where the diseases of poverty are decimating entire communities. AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis are commonplace, but valuable tools like medical journals and the Internet are unaffordable luxuries. Without access to the best clinical literature and the newest treatment guidelines, doctors have no other choice but to rely on poor, unreliable or outmoded methods of patient treatment. Their patients suffer and even die unnecessarily. SATELLIFE empowers these health workers with virtual libraries of current health information and enables them to engage in information sharing with other members of the global health community, free of charge.
Spreading the healing power of information
Healthcare providers around the world turn to SATELLIFE every day. It is often the only source of reliable health information in medical schools where textbooks are outdated, clinics are without Internet access, and remote areas have no system for patient tracking and data collecting. It offers solutions in countries where even telephone lines remain a dream for many health workers, SATELLIFE offers solutions.
Free health publications
SATELLIFE produces three electronic publications delivered exclusively via e-mail called HealthNet News, HealthNet News-AIDS and HealthNet News-Community Health. Through special copyright agreements with 24 of the world’s leading medical publishers, the content is culled from 60 medical journals and delivered to health workers in developing countries free of charge. Editors choose articles relevant to the needs of healthcare workers in developing countries, and the publications are free of graphics to speed up transmission andreduce download time. Thousands of healthcare workers subscribe to the newsletters, and share the vital information with their peers. Hector Jalipa of World Vision told SATELLIFE, “I forward almost all copies of HealthNet News I receive to all 25 HIV/AIDS Coordinators across Africa because they are very relevant to our programmes, for policy, and programme design.” SATELLIFE also produces special editions of HealthNet News to address urgent medical issues, such as a collection of treatment guidelines in response to World Tuberculosis Day, and a collection of resources to address possible health risks related to the December 26, 2004 tsunami disaster.
Global forums on health
Since 1994, SATELLIFE has pioneered the use of email to facilitate communication and information sharing within the global health community. It leads twelve electronic discussion groups on some of the world’s most pressing health topics, including HIV/AIDS, nutrition, essential drugs, cardiovascular health, and African health research and development. These discussion groups provide a forum where health workers from around the world can share and gain information and best practices, enabling them to work together to solve common problems. Twenty-one expert moderators, based at institutions and organisations around the world including the World Health Organisation in Switzerland, Consultants for Health and Development in the Netherlands, and the Medical Research Council in South Africa, facilitate the exchange of ideas and experiences. An estimated 100,000 health professionals in 159 countries, including doctors, nurses, medical students, researchers, government officials, and program managers, access SATELLIFE’s vital networks everyday. More than 2 million email messages are exchanged each month as health professionals obtain the information they need to plan new programs for AIDS patients, develop national drug policies, update TB treatment guidelines, and much more – all with the common goals of alleviating human suffering and improving health.
Since launching its first satellite in 1989, SATELLIFE has adapted a wide range of cost effective technologies to meet the urgent information and communication needs of health professionals in the world’s resource-poor countries. Most recently, it has pioneered the use of handheld computers (also called personal digital assistants or PDAs) for information dissemination, health data collection, and communication between health workers. This innovative strategy extends the reach of lifesaving information into isolated rural communities with no email, electricity, or phone lines. The handhelds are used for data collection, epidemic warnings, essential drug information, and nutrition guidelines. Healthcare workers are able to access reliable information they need to make sound decisions at the point of care. Instead of visiting a patient a half day’s walk from the clinic, returning to the office to consult a possibly outdated textbook, and then returning the next day to give the patient a diagnosis, a doctor can stay at the patient’s bedside, consult a diagnostic tool, check for available drugs to treat the condition, and treat the patient immediately. One dramatic illustration of the handhelds’ efficacy comes from a doctor in Uganda whose access to information helped her to treat a mother and her unborn baby correctly. When the pregnant woman appeared with a skin affliction, the doctor was not sure if the drug she wanted to prescribe