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Satellite Communication Solves Connectivity Problems in Mali

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Consulting their peers for correctly interpreting x rays and continuous medical training has recently become a lot easier for doctors in the hospitals of Timbuktu, Mopti and Gao. Thanks to the European Space Agency (ESA) the consortium TNO, IICD, ActNow Alliance and Avanti Communications have been able to install a VSAT satellite connection to facilitate the information exchange and communication between hospitals in remote areas and related institutions. The hospitals in Mali are one of the few hospitals who benefit from the VSAT connection.

The installation of the satellite connection is part of a pilot to see how satellites can best be used for capacity development purposes in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The aim of the pilot is to build a reference model for the conception, design and implementation of satellite communication within capacity development programmes. The IICD partner hospitals in Mali and partner hospitals from ActNow in Ivory Coast were selected for testing the reference model.

ESA actively promotes the use of satellite based telecommunication infrastructures in developing countries in order to empower organisations and individuals. This is called Capacity Building through ICT. The added value of satellite communication is significant due to the lack of wired infrastructure, the extreme networking environment, and the large geography of the countries of interest. Whether the use of satellite connection is going to be a success depends largely on how the use of ICT is approached. Not only technical, operational and strategic aspects need to be taken into account, but also social, cultural, financial and organisational aspects. To help come to a successful holistic approach of using satellite communication the consortium developed a reference model that assists with the conception, design and implementation of projects using this technology.

In January 2009, TNO visited IICD-partner hospitals in Mali which were soon to be connected to the internet via satellite communication. Together with IICD, TNO collected feedback on the preparation work for the reference model from the local Malian partner, IKON. The hospitals in Timbuktu, Gao and Mopt, all participating in the IKON programme supported by IICD, were selected for setting up the VSAT connection as they had faced many problems in the past with setting up a regular internet connection. Afterwards in April 2009, the VSAT connection became reality and the hospitals in Timbuktu, Gao and Mopti were finally online. Thanks to the VSAT connection the hospitals, now connected to internet, can get support for the interpretation of X-rays. Lack of specialised medical staff, such as radiologists, is a common problem in hospitals in remote areas in countries like Mali. Internet makes it possible for doctors to send pictures to radiologists in the capital Bamako and to ask for assistance. At the same time hospital staff can continue to train through eLearning courses even though they are positioned in remote areas. In Ivory Coast there is a connection between the hospital, the training centre and the library to the internet via satellite communication.

The hospitals participating in the pilot use the reference model as a guideline in the preparation, implementation and evaluation of the project. It is applicable for work carried out by project initiators, project managers and programme managers. Feedback is collected by means of a weblog each month until October. The feedback will guarantee that the local context of developing countries is embedded into the reference model. UNESCO has been chosen to have the task to give external review before the project comes to an end at the end of the year.

This story was originally published by the International Institute for Communication and Development

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Tags: satellite  testing  vsat  wired  Mali