Reducing Health Disparities in Africa
Global Telehealth Network, IEEE Smart Village and Rotarians are collaborating to improve access to healthcare in medically underserved areas and to improve education and economic development in rural communities.
Our initial efforts are focused on a response to the global pandemic of COVID-19 and improvement in maternal and child health services through pilot projects in East Africa. Our long-term objective is to advance progress toward most of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to end poverty throughout the world.
Relatively limited numbers of cases of COVID-19 have been reported so far in Africa, but it is difficult to determine how many cases and deaths have actually occurred. Especially with the emergence of new variants, there is still the danger of surges of cases, and there will not be enough health workers on the ground to provide the care that is needed.
Other severe shortages exist in maternal and child health, non-communicable diseases and mental health services.
Meanwhile, 40% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa live in extreme poverty, but their conditions can be greatly improved with access to quality healthcare services, education and economic development.
The Global Telehealth Network (GTN) is a nonprofit organization of volunteer physicians and psychologists who can provide free, real time, online video consultations for health workers in medically underserved areas when they encounter patients who are impacted by COVID-19 or other complex medical, surgical or mental health problems.
GTN also offers free use of its technology to develop regional telehealth networks that not only enable doctors to obtain in-country specialty consults, but also allow them to supervise nurses in remote areas who currently have no physician backup. Meanwhile, GTN’s international panel of professional volunteers can fill any gaps in expertise with 24/7 availability.
IEEE Smart Village (ISVx) provides seed funding and training for local entrepreneurs whose for-profit social enterprises develop solar power installations to provide clean, sustainable electricity.
Now ISVx will also support entrepreneurs in establishing broadband Internet access for hospitals, clinics, schools and villages. Electric power and Internet connectivity will allow access not only to telehealth services, but also to valuable resources for education and economic development.
At each site, we work with community and government leaders, entrepreneurs and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to assess their needs, then customize and implement projects to meet those needs.
The pilot projects in Kenya and Uganda involve three hospitals, four rural clinics and two schools. Each site is unique, and following detailed outcomes analyses, these projects will inform development of multiple models that can be adapted to meet the needs of many additional hospitals, clinics and schools around the world.
These initial efforts will benefit several hundred thousand people, and they will directly address 10 of the 17 United Nations SDGs. As the program scales across Sub-Saharan Africa and other continents, it will impact the lives of tens of millions and advance 13 of the SDGs.
Reliable electric power will also improve safety at hospitals and clinics where power failures sometimes require use of flashlights to complete surgeries and deliveries.
Installations at schools will provide access to telehealth and to a vast array of online educational resources that eliminate dependence on outdated textbooks. Schools can also utilize Internet resources for adult education and vocational training.
IEEE Smart Village and the Global Telehealth Network are collaborating with The Rotary eClub of Silicon Valley Smart Village, the Rotary Club of Los Altos, California, 11 other Rotary Clubs, Child Health & AIDS Prevention (CHAP) and several other organizations to implement these pilot projects.
We’re also developing the funding required to scale our efforts through an additional round of projects throughout Kenya and Uganda, as well as in Tanzania, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Galápagos Islands and the U.S., beginning with urban free clinics and rural Tribal Lands, as well as in refugee settlements, disaster areas and conflict zones, including Ukraine and Syria.