October 09, 2008 00:01 ET

U.S. Department of State Taps IBM to Extend Telemedicine's Reach to Remote Regions of Pakistan

Public-Private Partnership Showcases Power of Technology and Connectivity to Improve Quality of Life for Remote Populations

ARMONK, NY and WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwire - October 9, 2008) - Munir is five years old, and he lives in a ruggedly remote, rural village in Northern Pakistan. For months, he has suffered from an aggressive and worsening skin lesion that, for want of medical care, has gone untreated. But now, his fortunes have changed for the better -- as they have for a growing number of Pakistanis in the region. Today, as his relieved father would quickly tell you, Munir is on the road to full recovery.

His story and hundreds like it are coming true because the U.S. Department of State and IBM (NYSE: IBM) are leading a public-private partnership to implement a high-technology telemedicine system in Pakistan. The partnership includes Wateen Telecom, Motorola Inc., Medweb Inc., USAID, the U.S. Department of Defense Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center, the Pakistani Government, and Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi and District Headquarters Hospital in Attock. The team has helped to broaden and strengthen technical capabilities at a "hub" or a central coordinating hospital located at the Holy Family Hospital in the northern city of Rawalpindi, Punjab Province, with the "spoke" hospital with limited resources in District Attock.

The Pakistan Telemedicine Project is providing expanded medical care -- pre-operative planning and follow-up; cardiac assessment; ophthalmology, dermatology, radiology, infectious disease, and peri-natal evaluations; and medical triage for traumas and acute illnesses. Another important aspect of the project is building capacity for healthcare services via virtual clinical grand rounds for medical education.

The partnership combines an Internet-access portal providing interactive collaboration tools such as secure email, voice and video conferencing on a secure telemedicine network with advanced medical peripheral devices including portable ultrasound, digital cameras, EKG, stethoscope and X-ray machine.

Telemedicine enables healthcare providers to deliver high quality medical services to patients -- care that would otherwise be lacking or absent in remote locations. Moving information instead of people, it provides healthcare consultation and education via the Internet. "Pakistan is the sixth most populous country in the world -- a nation of 173 million people," said internationally recognized telemedicine expert and surgeon, Dr. Asif Zafar, of the Holy Family Hospital. "The goal of this project is to highlight technology's ability to overcome a significant healthcare imbalance -- more than 75 percent of the population lives in rural areas but only 22 percent of the doctors work there."

Wateen Telecom and Motorola are the first companies in the world to roll out a cutting-edge WiMAX network on a nationwide scale. WiMAX enables wireless broadband access, allowing the exchange of massive amounts of information between the Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi and District Headquarters Hospital in Attock. The new system leverages the low-cost, ubiquitous power of the Internet to connect hub hospitals to what the team hopes will be an increasing number of spoke facilities in regions like Munir's. In turn, the system can access and engage the help of medical experts working at some of the most elite medical institutions in Pakistan and around the world. The system can also be used for other applications, such as online education.

"The Department of State, through the Pakistan Telemedicine Project, is demonstrating the transformative power of telecommunications technology under the U.S. Government's Digital Freedom Initiative, which seeks to encourage the spread of technology to the developing world," said Ferial Saeed, Deputy U.S. Coordinator & Office Director for International Communications & Information Policy. "Telecommunications technology not only underpins global economic growth and development but also can be used to promote both good government and good governance -- from online medical and educational initiatives that deliver services and opportunities to people and places too often overlooked, to e-government programs that increase the public trust. Under this public-private partnership, we hope to demonstrate how technology and Internet-based connectivity can significantly improve the quality of life for people in remote locations."

The Pakistan Telemedicine Project leverages IBM's and Medweb's experience from successfully implementing similar technology throughout the U.S. Government and a humanitarian telemedicine project on the world's most remote inhabited island, Tristan da Cunha. The island is located more than 1,665 miles west of Cape Town, South Africa.

"With the proliferation and fusion of information, telecommunications and medical technologies, we can bring advanced healthcare services to people in remote geographies with compassion, efficiency and affordability," said Dan Pelino, General Manager, IBM Global Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry. "The Pakistan Telemedicine Project brings together the strengths of both public and private partners to provide a global blueprint -- one that can be replicated to enhance the lives of people worldwide by providing quality healthcare at the point of need."

The Public-Private Partnership Members are:

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Contact Information

    Gina Jesberg
    IBM Public Relations
    Office: (203) 445-1545
    Mobile: (201) 545-3186