January 2010

Exploring eHealth innovation in Asia

eHEALTH Asia 2009 (part of eAsia 2009), 2-4 December, BMICH, Colombo, Sri Lanka

For most of us, the island country of Sri Lanka is known for its pristine beaches, thick rainforests, historical monuments, gigantic elephants, finest tea plantations, and of course, the characteristic Sinhala way of greeting ‘Ayubowan’.

However, for those who took part in ‘eAsia 2009’ (held between 4-6 December 2009 in Colombo) there is one additional identifier for this wonderful country ‘IT Enthusiasm’.

Organised by Centre for Science, Development and Media Studies & Elets Technomedia from India, in association with ICT Agency of Sri Lanka, under the patronage of H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and the Presidential Secretariat, Sri Lanka, this event marked the 4th annual edition of Asia’s most premium ICT for Development conference and exhibition.

First day of the conference saw a grand inaugural ceremony consisting of launch by Sri Lankan  President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The ceremony was followed by plenary sessions consisting of eminent experts, commenting on importance and advancements of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in fields of learning, governance, health and telecentre forum, in addition to emerging technologies.

Delivering the keynote address at the inaugural ceremony, the Hon’ble President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa averred that Sri Lanka is moving ahead in ICT literacy with national IT literacy crossing the level of 30 % in comparison to 4% in 2004 and assured that the Government was committed to ensure that it goes up to 60% by 2012. Rajapaksa said: ICT is the future driving force of economies.  It is the tool and the enabler that will push the boundaries of socio-economic development in countries such as Sri Lanka.  It is with this aim that Sri Lanka has given priority to ICT, and mainstreamed ICT in all its development activities.  It is in this regard that Sri Lanka firmly pushes ahead with pioneering initiatives such as e-Sri Lanka.

He underlined that these efforts have resulted in numerous achievements and successes in the field of ICT in Sri Lanka, given the fact that country’s percentage ranking in the Network Readiness Index has moved up from 72 to 53 in a span of three years. Voicing his concern over the impact of Internet on young population of the country, he cautioned, “Our children must be protected from the dangers in the cyber space at any cost. Our culture also should not be harmed due to any advances in ICT. I am therefore appealing to all the Asian leaders to take precautions in this regard.”

While information technology is rapidly modernising all areas of human life, healthcare posses one of the biggest potential for bringing a paradigm. Use of technology aides for better healthcare management, accurate clinical decisions, improved medical outcomes and universal medicare access is fast becoming a reality.

Historically, Asian region suffered from poor public health conditions caused due to acute shortage of medical facilities, unequal distribution of healthcare resources and dearth of efficient care management systems. Over the last few decades, proliferation of IT and modern communication tools has provided exploitative capabilities for changing this grim situation.

Emphasizing the benefits of technology driven healthcare reforms and the commitment of Sri Lankan government in this direction, Hon’ble Minister of Science and Technology of Sri Lanka, Prof. Tissa Witharana delivered an elaborate opening address of the eHealth track of eAsia 2009 conference. Urging his fellow colleagues across the region for promoting best-use of ICT in healthcare, Minister Witharana thoughtfully underlined the need for bringing standardization and interoperability for realizing the actual success of ehealth.

Focusing on the topic – ‘eHealth Policy, Strategy & Infrastructure’, the first technical session of the conference witnessed some excellent presentations by Prof. Rizvi Sheriff, Director, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, Sri Lanka, followed by Dr. Vijay Kumar Soni, CEO, reveiwarticle.net; and Dr. Roshan Hashantha Hewapathirana, Coordinator-Biomedical Informatics, Post Graduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. The focus of all the speakers revolved around the dire need for introducing national eHealth policy across the region and creating enabling environment for its adoption and ution.

The second technical session based on the theme – ‘Telemedicine & Telehealth Initiatives in Asia’ was marked by thought provoking presentations of Mridul Chowdhury, CEO, Clickdiagnostics, Bangladesh; Ms. Saatviga Sudahar, Researcher, University of Colombo School of Computing, Sri Lanka; and Sherif el Tokali, ICT for Development Specialist, United Nations Development Programme, Egypt. With experience sharing from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Egypt, the session turned out to be highly invigorating and insightful.

While healthcare is essentially scientific in nature, its social implications are far reaching and wide spread. Furthermore, technology aided healthcare delivery is bringing completely new dimension in terms of its social construct. The third technical session focusing on ‘Social Transformation of Healthcare’ touched upon this vital element through insightful presentations of Dr. Keith Chapman, Consultant General Surgeon, UCSM, Sri Lanka; B.M.W.U.C.B Jayasundara, Researcher, University of Colombo School of Computing, Sri Lanka; and Dr. M. N. Karunatilaka, Medical Officer, Colombo South Teaching Hospital, Sri Lanka.

While ICTs provide a great leveler for bringing uniformity in health sector development, partnerships play a crucial role in optimizing technology utilisation. Bringing focus on this vital aspect was the session ‘Building Multi-stakeholder Partnerships for ICT in Health’. With captivating presentations of Anir Chowdhury, Secretary to Prime Ministers’ Office and Jit Warnakulasuriya, Chairman, Just In Time Group, the session brought to life the fundamental need for fostering successful partnerships among public, private and civil society stakeholders for making ehealth work for the masses.

The second day of the conference started with the session ‘Emerging Technologies in eHealth’, marked by a captivating presentation by Dr. Aloke Mullick, Head, Clinical Transformation Solutions, OHUM Global Solution Center, India, followed by Mohammad Taha Khan, Research Fellow, Centre for Development of Advance Computing, India; M.A.S.D. Perera, Researcher, Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology, Sri Lanka; and Nuwan Waidyanatha, Senior Researcher/Project Director, LIRNEasia, China. The session had paper presentations focusing on open source healthcare solutions, intelligent wheelchairs for disabled patients and web-based real time bio-surveillance solutions.

The following session focused on ‘Data and Information Management in Healthcare’ with presentations of Low Li Kiang, Alliance Director, Hitachi Data Systems-APAC and Hanwoo Sun, Senior Consultant, Samsung SDS. The presentations showcased some the latest technology offerings available in storage devices, networking solutions, archiving and retri.

The session on ‘Wireless and Mobile Applications in eHealth’ had some exciting deliberations on emerging technology solutions available for healthcare organisations through the use of wireless and mobile applications. Dr. Vajira Dissanayake, President, Health Informatics Society of Sri Lanka talked about m-applications in bio-medical informatics; W.M.A.S.B. Wickramasinghe, Researcher, University of Colombo School of Computing, Sri Lanka presented a paper on use of mobile devices in surveillance of communicable diseases and Dr. P. K. Amarnath Babu, State Coordinator, Tamilnadu Health Systems Project, India presented the HMIS project implemented in the state of Tamilnadu in India.

The concluding session of the conference focused on the topic ‘eHealth Applications for Developing Countries’. The session was underlined by an entrancing presentation by Dr. Denham Pole, Consultant-Medical Informatics, Swiss Red Cross-Sri Lanka, in which he delivered a live demonstration of his open source Multi-Disease Surveillance System (MDSS) by showing real time data from the Trincomaly General Hospital on the east coast of Sri Lanka. Adding to the deliberations were Malmi Amadoru, Researcher, MIT-Sri Lanka talking about the Ayurvedic Information System ‘AyurConsulter’; Dr. B.J.C. Perera, Consultant Paediatrician, Sri Lanka College of Paediatricians, Sri lanka, talking about the medical journal online initiative of Sri Lanka; Dr. Pramod D. Jacob, Chief Consultant, D J HealthTech Consultants, India talking about EHR best practices and Reetesh Handly Chandrashekar, Associate Consultant, Siemens talking about Monitor Adherence to Dosage and Alert at Mobile devices.

With a plethora of deliberations and a gamut of expert presentations over the three hectic days of the event, eHealth Asia 2009 turned out to be an adventurous exploration for eHealth initiatives in the Asian region.

Catch up with more of such exciting exploration and thoughtful deliberations in our forthcoming eIndia 2010, to be held between 4-6 August 2010 at Hyderabad and the eAsia 2010 to be held in Manila, Philippines in November. Hope to see you there.  

(For detailed report of the event please visit www.e-asia.org)

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