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Ethiopia has a chronic shortage of highly skilled physicians, and nowhere is this more painfully evident than in rural communities. With physicians concentrated in urban centers, many rural residents have almost no access to complex and specialty care. Telemedicine (the use of technology to provide care and training at a distance) offers a potential solution – a means to bridge the gap in rural communities’ access to health services and strengthen the capacity of the health system by training physicians.
During my internship at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)/Ethiopia, I interviewed and surveyed telemedicine implementers and used their programmatic information as the basis for a status report on telemedicine programs. The report included a comprehensive literature review of telemedicine programming in Ethiopia, which helped illuminate common successes and challenges. Successes included international partnerships and simple software design for fast upload time; among the challenges were slow Internet speed and connectivity, as well as a recent ban on free-use Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP) programs for businesses, such as Skype.
After I interviewed telemedicine implementers, it became clear that a coordinated effort was needed. Multiple international and Ethiopian programs were operational, but a lack of communication limited the ability to share best practices and collaborate. My report serves as a baseline for telemedicine programming in Ethiopia and provides four policy recommendations:
Prior to arriving in Ethiopia, I had a limited understanding of the possibilities presented by telemedicine. After dedicating a summer to learning from the talented people at USAID, the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health and several telemedicine partners, I have a deep appreciation for its power as a tool to bridge the gap in access to health care for rural communities.