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The Raft Network: Five Years of Distance Continuing Medical Education and Tele-Consultations via the Internet in French-Speaking Africa

Author(s): Cheick Oumar Bagayoko1, O. Ly2, A. Geissbuhler1
Affiliation(s): 1Informatique Médicale, Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève, Geneva, Switzerland, 2REIMICOM, Hôpital Mère Enfant, Bamako, Mali
Key issues:

Continuing education of healthcare professionals is a key element for the quality and efficiency of a health system. In developing countries, this activity is usually limited to capitals, and delocalized professionals do not have access to such opportunities, or to didactic material adapted to their needs. This limits the interest of such professionals to remain active in the periphery, where they are most needed to implement effective strategies for prevention and first-line healthcare. Telemedicine tools enable the communication and sharing of medical information in electronic form, and thus facilitate access to remote expertise. A physician located far from a reference centre can consult colleagues remotely in order to resolve a difficult case, follow a continuous education course on the Internet, or access medical information from digital libraries or knowledge bases. These same tools can also be used to facilitate exchanges between centres of medical expertise: health institutions of a same country as well as across borders. Since 2000, the Geneva University Hospitals have been involved in coordinating the development of a network for eHealth in Africa (the RAFT, Réseau en Afrique Francophone pour la Télémédecine), first in Mali, and now extending to 10 French-speaking African countries. The core activity of the RAFT is the webcasting of interactive courses. These sessions put the emphasis on knowledge sharing across care professions, usually in the form of presentations and dialogues between experts in different countries. The technology used for the webcasting works with a slow (25 kbits/second) internet connection. Other activities of the RAFT network include visioconferences, teleconsultations based on the iPath system, collaborative knowledge bases development, support for medical laboratories quality control, and the evaluation of the use of telemedicine in rural areas (via satellite connections) in the context of multisectorial development.

Meeting challenges: Equitable access to medical knowledge and information for the developing countries and valorization of the local content.
Conclusion (max 400 words):

Finally, a strong emphasis is put on the development of capacities for the creation, maintenance, and publication of quality medical didactic contents. Specific courses are organized for the national coordinators of the network to develop these competencies, with the help of the Health On the Net Foundation. The richness of the plurality of knowledge and know-how must be steered towards emulation and sharing, respectful of each partner’s identity and culture. Collaborative projects with UNESCO and the WHO have been initiated to address these challenges.

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