Healthcare Technology Featured Article

June 28, 2016

Tech for Good: How Technology is Improving Healthcare in Third World Countries

Living in North America, it is difficult to imagine the challenges faced by those living in third world countries. In the U.S., the availability of technology, particularly in the medical field, creates a sense of security. If a family member becomes ill, there is hope in knowing that the loved one will be diagnosed using a combination of sophisticated, reliable technologies and an experienced medical staff. In Africa, that security is very limited. According to BBC, 23 million Africans suffer from Aids, and 12 million African children have been orphaned due to the Aids epidemic. Aids is a great health concern, but the problem is not Aids alone. Poor nutrition and a lack of healthcare afflicts a devastating portion of Africa's poorest countries. 

Disparities in Healthcare
Not all of Africa's population is living in extreme poverty. However, there are great disparities in the availability of healthcare and access to public health information. According to an article published on the Wharton University of Pennsylvania's web site, 34 percent of people living in Nigeria have some form of healthcare insurance. In the nearby city of Ghana, 68 percent of people are covered under a health insurance plan. In other words, twice the amount of Ghana's residents have access to healthcare when compared to Nigeria's population. In poor, rural areas of Africa, health insurance is considered a luxury. 

Hope for the Near Future
According to IRIN, a news source, an average of 20 women would die each year while giving birth in the Ghana village of Amensie. In 2006, a cell phone project began that enabled pregnant women in Amensie to call the hospital, or the local midwife, when a pregnancy complication became apparent. Since then, there have been no recorded deaths linked to maternal complications in the Amensie village. An ambulance service was established before the cell phone project began. However, the death rate was still high, as many residents had no way to contact the emergency services until the cell phone project was introduced. This story illustrates the importance of communication technology. Even the best medical services cannot make a huge impact until a large population of rural communities have access to communication technologies. 

Advocating for Change
Dr. Verma wrote an excellent article in which he poses the question, "How can we bring technologies we take for granted back home to those in the developing world?". Changing the status quo requires a strong voice. Those with the strongest voice are usually those who have experienced the problem. As demonstrated with the introduction of cell phones, even small technology can vastly improve the lives of those living in developing nations. Telecommunications technologies like VSAT internet would enable developing countries to advocate for themselves. 

Expanding the Possibilities
In the U.S., surgeons can practice complicated procedures using virtual training software. Every small movement the surgeon makes during the training session is recorded. This virtual reality training software allows surgeons to safely perfect delicate surgeries before ever performing them on real people. Telehealth is a promising concept. In rural areas, telehealth technologies can be used by doctors to consult with knowledgeable specialists from around the globe. Even online medical journals and research can be accessed via the Internet, improvinafafg the quality of medical services. The information needed to make life-saving decisions is available on the Internet. Medical staff in Africa, and other developing nations, need only a way to access it. Telecommunications technology could act as a foundation for expanding the healthcare field in Africa as it has already done for developing nations. Public health information could be shared among the populations, which could help to decrease the disparities in healthcare. Advancements in various telecommunications technologies have made them more reliable and cost-effective. This could mean that positive change is not only possible in the distant-future, but that it could be eminent in the near future. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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