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Technology Gives Rwanda an Edge in Treating HIV/AIDS


Cutting-edge technology is helping Rwanda's Ministry of Health improve care for many of the nation's 190,000 HIV and AIDS-affected patients. Physicians say electronic reporting systems have changed the landscape of medical care in Rwanda. Noel King has more in this report from Kigali.

Rwanda's Tracnet system uses computer and mobile phone technology that allows doctors to file patient histories and request medications in mere seconds, a vast improvement over a paper-based system that used to take months.

Medical professionals simply upload requests for anti-retroviral medications via the web or through an automated operator on a toll-free number.

Doctors say the technology has improved their ability to treat patients across the nation.

Dr. Tom Mushi is the director of the Polyclinic for Hope, which serves 426 women affected with HIV and AIDS, in the capital Kigali.

"Tracnet is a good instrument for reporting," he said. "At the central level they are able to get the whole picture of the whole country, of needs and problems. It helps us with the availability of drugs. At the central level they can get the needs of our health center."

The electronic system means that clinics no longer have to worry about possibly running out of vital medications.

"We instantly know who needs which drugs and we can be able to have the drugs sent on time," said Dr. Anita Asiimwe, the managing director of Rwanda's Center for the Treatment and Research of AIDS.

Doctors say the electronic system has made their jobs much easier.

Dr. Mushi told VOA he no longer worries about losing important paperwork.

"I have the format in the phone and it's easy to use," he said. "I can even do the report at home when I relax. And for those who are in a place where they don't have network, they can put the report and save in the phone. And when they reach the place where there is a network, they can submit."

Rwanda's Ministry of Health provides doctors with cellular phones. But it cannot yet afford to buy laptops for all of the nation's 158 clinics that provide care for AIDS patients.

Rates of HIV/AIDS rose in the wake of Rwanda's 1994 genocide which pitted Hutu militias against Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Knight Kabataya Jeunie, a social worker at the Polyclinic for Hope, said the Tracnet system has benefited some of Rwanda's most vulnerable women.

"Whoever is living with HIV/AIDS comes to this clinic, especially if she has a background of being sexually violated during 1994," she said. "The big percentage are those who were sexually violated in the 1994 genocide."

Rwanda implemented the Tracnet system in 2005, in partnership with Tulane University and Voxiva, the Washington-based company that designed the software.

"We believe that Tracnet is the model for health management information systems in Africa," said Heidi Jugenitz, a project coordinator with Voxiva. "It has demonstrated an ability that other systems have not yet demonstrated to get the data that's needed from point A to point B and then to get the type of feedback that's needed so that the users can inform their local decision making."

Jugenitz told VOA that Rwanda currently uses the technology only in clinics that treat AIDS patients, but hopes to expand the system to include clinics that treat other medical conditions.

Rwanda is known for its aggressive policies on combating HIV/AIDS and the nation's rate of infection hovers around 3 percent - one of the lowest rates in Africa.

This year, Rwanda became the first country in the world to take advantage of a World Health Organization waiver that allows the world's least developed countries skirt patent laws and import generic brand anti-retroviral drugs.

Rwanda is currently testing generic Canadian medicines for their suitability for public consumption.

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