Niger Families Face Drought

Botswana Receives First White Space Telemedicine Service to Reach Rural Populations


One of the beautiful aspects of Africa is its beautiful, wide expanses. All over the continent you will be awed by how far-reaching your eyes can see especially when traveling through its spectacular countryside. But as much as it is beautiful, the size of Africa also poses a significant problem because without modern infrastructure, including the Internet, and transport to major cities, those who live in the deepest, far-reaching rural areas are not privy to the best medical care they can receive.

In Botswana, this is about to change.

In partnership with the University of Pennsylvania, Microsoft, the University of Botswana, and other global partners, the Botswana-University Hub (BUP) has launched a new project, “Project Kgolagano,” to bring telemedicine to rural areas in the country to help diagnose maternal health cases as well as HIV, cervical cancer, and TB cases.

Using TV white spaces (unused broadcasting frequencies in the wireless spectrum) Internet broadband is able to reach even the most remote villages in developing countries. In fact, it has been reported that Microsoft and Google are both chasing white spaces in Africa where only 16 percent of the continent’s population is online. This is where solar power can be game-changing to keep Africa online despite its energy shortcomings. Just look at Kenya where Microsoft helped provide broadband Internet in rural areas even when electricity was nonexistent or very scarce.

White spaces aren’t new. Some parts of remote, off-the-grid areas in South Africa were also provided with cheap broadband through the use of white spaces in 2013. But ubiquitous usage of the technology is relatively new.

“This unique and innovative project will allow underserved patients in the rural areas of Botswana to have better access to the health care they need,” said Harvey Friedman, MD, director of BUP. “People won’t have to travel hundreds of miles to the see specialists, which are lacking in many of the rural hospitals in the country. They will be able to engage with Penn Medicine doctors and residents who work over there from their local hospitals and clinics in a live telemedicine connection that will deliver care in a faster, more convenient, and cost-effective manner.”

While the use of white spaces in developing countries is new, it is only a matter of time before those white spaces and its opportunities become congested. Until then, it is nice to see the technology being used to save lives.

Photo: United Nations/Phil Behan

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