Page 6 - Telehealth
P. 6


                                      HAMADOUN I. TOURÉ

                                      Telecommunication Development Bureau
                                      International Telecommunication Union

We are pleased to launch this publication on Telehealth, which is the result of a cooperative
effort between the Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) of the International
Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission
(CITEL) of the Organization of American States (OAS), and the Pan American Health
Organization (PAHO), which serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World
Health Organization (WHO). The invaluable contributions made by Latin American
Association of Research Centers and Telecommunication Enterprises (AHCIET) are also
immensely appreciated.

The Telehealth Book introduces what has become a new and topical dimension with respect
to health-care delivery in the Americas Region. It is hoped that, this publication will serve as
reference material for governments, academia, private sector, and all those involved in both
primary and tertiary healthcare. Through telehealth, remote data access, health-information
sharing and medical support as well as clinical examination, diagnosis and treatment are
made possible. As evident in this book, up until recently, telehealth has tended to be viewed
as a concept limited to the use of information and communication technologies to deliver
health services, expertise and information over long distances, including the use of Internet
and video-based applications, being delivered in real-time (live) or through store-and-forward
(record now, view later). This is far from the truth because telehealth also involves changing
the way people think, view, and conduct healthcare around the world. It is a unique global
tool, which has the capability to overcome all existing geographical, political, social, linguistic,
and cultural divides in the health system.

The application of information and communication technology (ICTs) in the area of health
delivery has been high on the agenda of the BDT for a long time. In 1997, with the help of the
Portuguese Administration who offered to host the event, the ITU organized the First World
Telemedicine Symposium for developing countries. This was the first world forum to discuss
and acknowledge the host of benefits that telehealth could bring to society. At that time, there
was resistance to change on the part of health practitioners who remained skeptical about the
application of information and communication technology in health delivery. Riding on the
success of this event of its first kind, the ITU organized the Second World Telemedicine
Symposium for Developing Countries that was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1999. It
was at this symposium that the World Health Organization (WHO), and the ITU decided to
work together in the future to make telemedicine a success. Since then, the two sister
organizations have formed study groups in their respective organizations to work on the
issue, have collaborated, and have also conducted pilot projects in partnership with the
private sector. Having said all the above, there are a lot of challenges and hurdles that need
to be passed before we can make telehealth ubiquitous.

This publication comes at an opportune time as it is the eve of the historic World Summit on
the Information Society (WSIS), scheduled to be held in Geneva, Switzerland in December
2003, and in Tunis, Tunisia in 2005, under ITU’s leadership.

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