News / Health

Are Virtual Doctors the Answer for Ugandan Health Care?

Rosemary Napeyok (right) in the Nadunget Health Center, located in Karamoja, northeastern Uganda, consults a doctor in Kampala over Skype, March 3, 2014. (Hilary Heuler for VOA News)
Rosemary Napeyok (right) in the Nadunget Health Center, located in Karamoja, northeastern Uganda, consults a doctor in Kampala over Skype, March 3, 2014. (Hilary Heuler for VOA News)
A new telemedicine facility in one of the most remote regions of Uganda allows local health care workers to consult online with doctors in Kampala. The potential for Uganda’s poorly-staffed health centers could be huge.

At Nadunget Health Center in Karamoja, northeastern Uganda, dozens of patients wait stoically for their turn to see a nurse. Rosemary Napeyok, head of the facility, leads a team of nurses and midwives who serve about 25,000 people in the area. Most illnesses, she explains, are fairly straightforward.

“The major conditions we treat here are malaria, respiratory tract infections and gastrointestinal infections. We also get a few cases of viral infections, like right now there is an outbreak of hepatitis,” she said.

But not all cases are so simple, and like all health centers in Karamoja, Nadunget has no doctor. Advanced stages of AIDS, severe malaria and more obscure diseases often baffle the nurses. Standard procedure is to send such patients to the referral hospital in the town of Moroto, 10 kilometers away.

A small antenna on the roof of Nadunget Health Center connects health care workers to the internet, and to doctors in Kampala, March 3, 2014. (Hilary Heuler / VOA News)A small antenna on the roof of Nadunget Health Center connects health care workers to the internet, and to doctors in Kampala, March 3, 2014. (Hilary Heuler / VOA News)
x
A small antenna on the roof of Nadunget Health Center connects health care workers to the internet, and to doctors in Kampala, March 3, 2014. (Hilary Heuler / VOA News)
A small antenna on the roof of Nadunget Health Center connects health care workers to the internet, and to doctors in Kampala, March 3, 2014. (Hilary Heuler / VOA News)
But, Napeyou says, the roads are terrible, transport is often lacking and even the referral hospital has only two doctors.

“Even sometimes phone calls become a challenge. The whole weekend there was no network. So if you have no transport here there is no way you can reach the next person who can help you to have the patient referred to the referral hospital,” she said.

But thanks to a brand-new satellite Internet connection, consulting a doctor has just become much easier.

A simple call over Skype, a free software, is often enough to clear up any doubts in the nurses’ minds.

Godfrey Bampiiga works for UNICEF, which set up the connection to pilot the concept of telemedicine. He explains that the computers the health center uses run on solar power, important in a region almost completely off the electric grid.

“These are small but robust computers, very nice, cost effective. You just have to turn it to face where the patient is, you adjust, and the doctor is able to see exactly how the patient is doing,” he said.  

UNICEF’s Rebecca Kwagala adds that Skype conference calls can make a big difference as well.

“If you call for a meeting and they have to close the health facility, then there will be no one to give services to the community. With this it can also be used for meetings and also trainings. People don’t have to move,” she said.

On the other end of the line are doctors like John Mark Bwanika, director of a Kampala call center staffed 24 hours by doctors and pharmacists. Although Nadunget is the only public health center using the Skype system so far, Bwanika says he sees a lot of potential for expansion in the north, east and far west of the country.

“These are regions that are probably farthest from the possible training centers. It would mean that the staff there would have to travel long distances to attain any form of training. The doctor and pharmacist coverage in those areas is also the most wanting in Uganda - regions of the country which are at the bottom of the pyramid in terms of health services,” said Bwanika.

Over time, speaking regularly to a doctor actually builds up the knowledge and capacity of the nurses themselves, says Bwanika.

“What we’ve seen is that once they learn things like that from a doctor or a qualified pharmacist, these are skills or knowledge that they will actually carry on, and next time they probably won’t need to consult on that and they will just do the right thing,” he said.

Uganda’s health care system is not growing as fast as its population, he adds. The future health of Ugandans, says Bwanika, may depend on modern technology to fill in the gaps.

You May Like

South Korea Divided on Response to North’s Cyber Attack

In past five years, officials in Seoul have accused Pyongyang of hacking into banks, government websites, causing chaos and inflicting millions of dollars in damages More

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Bentiu

Residents have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy, but planning for the future remains uncertain as fear of attacks looms More

2015 Could Be Watershed for Syria Conflict

Republican control of US Senate in January could lead to more aggressive policy against IS militants in Syria - and against regime of Bashar al-Assad More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jane Monheit Christmas Speciali
X
December 22, 2014 8:15 PM
Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Jane Monheit Christmas Special

Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Trade Talks Could Heat Up in 2015

With boosting trade a top priority for the Obama administration, 2015 may be the year that an agreement is finally reached on the Trans Pacific Partnership. But the trade deal, which is intended to boost trade between 12 Pacific countries, faces opposition as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil War

In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Town of Bentiu

Six months ago, Bentiu was a ghost town. The capital of northern Unity State, near South Sudan’s important oil fields, had changed hands several times in fighting between government forces and rebels. Calm returned in November and since then, residents of Bentiu have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy. Bentiu’s market has reopened there are plans to start school again. But fears of new attacks hang heavy, as Benno Muchler reports from Bentiu.
Video

Video US Business Groups Press for Greater Access to Cuba

President Barack Obama's decision to do all he can to ease restrictions on U.S. trade, travel and financial activities with Cuba has drawn criticism from some conservatives and Republicans. People who bring tourists to the island and farmers who want to sell more food to Cuba, however, think they can do a lot more business with Cuba. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school

All About America

AppleAndroid