Bulletin of the World Health Organization
Print version ISSN 0042-9686
CHANDRASEKHAR, C.P. and GHOSH, J.. Information and communication technologies and health in low income countries: the potential and the constraints. Bull World Health Organ [online]. 2001, vol.79, n.9, pp. 850-855. ISSN 0042-9686. http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S0042-96862001000900010.
This paper outlines the potential offered by technological progress in the information and communication technologies (ICTs) industries for the health sector in developing countries, presents some examples of positive experiences in India, and considers the difficulties in achieving this potential. The development of ICTs can bring about improvements in health in developing countries in at least three ways: as an instrument for continuing education they enable health workers to be informed of and trained in advances in knowledge; they can improve the delivery of health and disaster management services to poor and remote locations; and they can increase the transparency and efficiency of governance, which should, in turn, improve the availability and delivery of publicly provided health services. These potential benefits of ICTs do not necessarily require all the final beneficiaries to be reached directly, thus the cost of a given quantum of effect is reduced. Some current experiments in India, such as the use of Personal Digital Assistants by rural health workers in Rajasthan, the disaster management project in Maharashtra and the computerized village offices in Andhra Pradesh and Pondicherry, suggest creative ways of using ICTs to improve the health conditions of local people. However, the basic difficulties encountered in using ICTs for such purposes are: an inadequate physical infrastructure; insufficient access by the majority of the population to the hardware; and a lack of the requisite skills for using them. We highlight the substantial cost involved in providing wider access, and the problem of resource allocation in poor countries where basic infrastructure for health and education is still lacking. Educating health professionals in the possible uses of ICTs, and providing them with access and "connectivity", would in turn spread the benefits to a much wider set of final beneficiaries and might help reduce the digital divide.
Keywords : Information technology; Delivery of health care; Medical informatics applications; Pilot projects; Developing countries; India.