Telemedicine Service over TV White Spaces Network launched in Botswana

Botswana-UPenn Partnership (BUP) is collaborating with Microsoft, the Botswana Innovation Hub and other global partners to launch the first telemedicine service in Africa using TV white spaces to bring internet connectivity to hospitals and clinics across rural areas of Botswana. The pilot project, called “Project Kgolagano,” will provide clinical consultations and diagnoses to a patient population who would otherwise have to travel far distances to the capital city of Gaborone, Botswana for specialized care.

Penn Medicine telemedicine experts and physicians, including Doreen Ramogola-Masire, country director of the BUP and cervical cancer expert, and Ryan Littman-Quinn, director of Mobile Health Informatics at BUP, will provide the support and medical expertise for the referred patients. Harvey Friedman, director of BUP, is the principal investigator of Project Kgolagano, which means “to be connected or networked.”

The BUP, a program of the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania, is comprised of three main partners—the Government of Botswana, the University of Botswana and the University of Pennsylvania—working together to build capacity in sustainable and high quality healthcare in Botswana through clinical care, research and medical education.

Founded in 2001, the BUP provides expert care focusing in areas related to HIV, tuberculosis, cervical cancer, including co-morbid, multidrug-resistant and complicated cases, and dermatology, among others.

TV white space is a technology that enables the delivery of broadband using dynamic spectrum access. Unused spectrum on the frequency range commonly used to deliver television channels is used and known as TV white space or TVWS. Microsoft through its 4Afrika initiative has launched similar pilots across Africa in countries including Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania and Ghana.

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Project Kgolagano will have a specific focus on providing access to specialized maternal medicine, which will improve the livelihoods of women located in small towns and rural areas.

It will initially run in three locations: Lobatse, Francistown and Maun, with additional locations being added in the coming months. The hospitals to be connected are: Athlone Hospital in Lobatse, Nyangabwe Hospital in Francistown and Letsholathebe II Memorial Hospital in Maun. In addition, Tsopeng Clinic in Lobatse, Donga Clinic in Francistown, Moeti Clinic, Boseja Clinic, Maun Clinic, Sedie Clinic and Maun General Clinic will also be connected.

This latest project builds on the BUP’s continuing telemedicine efforts with cell phone technology in the country to help bring better clinical care to patients from afar.

“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 Dr. Friedman, who is also professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Penn. “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.”

Other collaborators on the project include Global Broadband Solutions, Vista Life Sciences, BoFiNet, Adaptrum and USAID-NetHope.