BANLUNG, CAMBODIA—Today marks the opening of a telemedicine clinic that brings the specialized skills of doctors at Harvard Medical School-affiliated teaching hospitals to one of the most isolated and medically-underserved areas of Cambodia and the region. The clinic is aimed at serving as a model for how information and communication technologies can be harnessed to improve the quality of health and life in the developing world.
The Ratanakiri telemedicine clinic is a joint project of the Markle Foundation, American Assistance for Cambodia, Partners Telemedicine, and the Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope. Shin Satellite of Thailand has contributed a dedicated high-speed Internet satellite link to the project.
Cambodian doctors and nurses will use this link to share descriptions of patient symptoms, digital photos, ultrasound readings, and X-rays with Harvard specialists through Partners Telemedicine in Boston, who will provide real-time diagnostic guidance and suggested treatments. Patients requiring more sophisticated equipment and supplies than those available at the clinic will be transferred to the charity Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope, which is the local support institution for this project, and other specialized medical centers in Phnom-Penh. Most patients, however, will be treated on-site.
Cambodia’s health problems are among the direst in Asia, according to the World Health Organization. Major health threats include trauma, malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, hepatitis B and mine accidents. Since most Cambodians live in rural areas and the country also lacks specialized physicians, the population is deprived of adequate medical attention, a situation that also exists in many other developing countries. The clinic in Ratanakiri, based at its only referral hospital, will leverage the skills of health care providers in both Cambodia and the United States.
“Telemedicine can overcome the barriers of distance and time to bring crucial information to the point of care,” says Zoë Baird, president of the Markle Foundation, which is funding this project. “It holds great potential to magnify the power of knowledge to save lives, particularly in the areas of greatest need.”
Baird noted that Markle supports the Ratanakiri telemedicine clinic because it hopes to improve the health of more than a thousand Cambodians and at the same time develop a model for technologically-based health care that can be replicated to serve the poor in remote areas anywhere.
In the coming months the Markle Foundation and its partners will measure the clinic’s impact on health and refine mechanisms for its long-term sustainability.
About American Assistance for Cambodia
American Assistance for Cambodia was established in 1993 by Bernard Krisher, a former Newsweek Tokyo bureau chief who covered Cambodia in the 60s and has been engaged over the past decade in volunteer activities targeted on its reconstruction and rehabilitation. AAfC’s projects include the establishment of the charity Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope and the construction of 250 solar-paneled/computer equipped primary rural schools.
About Partners Telemedicine
Partners Telemedicine is an arm of the Partners HealthCare System, a non-profit integrated health care delivery system founded by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, both teaching affiliates of Harvard Medical School. Partners Telemedicine was established in 1995 and has provided more than 10,000 specialty consultations, held 7,000 educational videoconferences and n umerous multimedia productions streamed via the Internet. Harvard specialists, through the Partners Telemedicine link, are volunteering their time and expertise to the Ratanakiri telemedicine clinic as well as to another remote telemedicine link in Cambodia Preah Vihear province.
About the Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope
The Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope is a privately funded charity hospital staffed and managed by HOPE worldwide, a United Nations recognized NGO. The hospital has made a six-year investment in developing the skills of a Cambodian staff of 36 doctors and 75 nurses, who provide medical care for 300 patients daily. A small team of international volunteer doctors and surgeons works alongside national health leaders to treat 60,000 patients every year, and, since 2001, has provided the local link between the rural telemedicine project and international partners on a volunteer basis.