Building upon a successful pilot, the LTFHC will expand the DRC communications network in Moba Territory (DRC) and initiate network installations in Kalémie Territory (DRC), as well as Rukwa and Kigoma regions (TZ). In addition to bridging the communications gap between health centers, this expansion will also provide a solution for obtaining epidemiologic data by using Tethr, a worldwide mobile network in a box. This will allow the LTFHC in partnership with local Ministries of Health (MOH), Tethr and others, to develop the region's first electronic medical record.
To accomplish this, the LTFHC will first conduct health center surveillance missions, to verify installation locations and initiate trainings with local MOH representatives. Based on these missions, the LTFHC will then deploy a team of technicians and staff to install 36 HF radios at health centers in Moba and Kalemie Territories (DRC) and 25 HF radios in Rukwa and Kigoma Regions (TZ). A subset of these health centers (15 in DRC and 10 in Tanzania) will include a Tethr box and laptop computer, allowing advanced networking capabilities and reliable written data transmission over long distances. These Tethr 'hubs' will be run by local health care workers and supported by LTFHC staff, as well as contain a training module for local operators to ensure proficiency with the system. Tethr technology allows new forms and questionnaires to be uploaded, so as use of the Tethr hubs grows, the ability to capture different types of data expands. Importantly, best practice data can also be posted via the system, so the network is not only gathering information but also disseminating it from the moment of installation.
This commitment presents an opportunity for a quantum leap forward for health care data collection in the basin, leading to better treatments, preventative practices, and health care outcomes for patients, as well as education and training opportunities for health care workers.
Rolling out the radio network expansion will take place over two years:
Mission One (Q4 2012): Planning.
The LTFHC will hold a multi-day planning meeting with all lake-based employees in Kigoma, Tanzania, in Q4 2012 to review all Ministry of Health and geographical data and create action plans for DRC and TZ based teams.
Mission Two (Q2 2013): Surveillance/Field Assessment.
The LTFHC will conduct health center surveillance missions focusing on Moba and Kalémie Territories in DRC; Rukwa and Kigoma Regions in TZ. All potential installation sites will be visited, enabling the team to have discussions with health center staff, refine utilization data as needed and understand technologic and geographic needs in order to appropriately prepare for installations.
Mission Three (Q4 2013): Installation, Training, and Further Surveillance.
The LTFHC will install radios, Tethr boxes at 'hubs', and conduct trainings in Moba and Kalémie Territories, DRC and Rukwa and Kigoma Regions, TZ. Deploying skilled technicians and staff, the team will start installations in the 36 health centers in DRC and 25 in Tanzania, as well as conduct trainings for local health care workers who will operate these units. This mission will include further surveillance of locations added and/or not included during Mission Two.
Mission Four (Q2 2014): Further Installation and Training.
The LTFHC will finish all radio installations and training in DRC and Tanzania.
Because of the lack of reliable communications, health areas in remote locations in the Lake Tanganyika basin in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania (TZ), Burundi, and Zambia are unable to radio for emergency medical assistance, seek guidance, submit reports as required by their respective Ministries of Health, and more. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of residents living across thousands of kilometers are not receiving adequate health care because the centers intended to serve them are cut off from their respective health systems infrastructure. Additionally, centers are neither able to collect vital public health and comprehensive epidemiologic data, nor carry out monitoring or surveillance of ongoing programs. Furthermore, because Lake Tanganyika has four international borders, the need for coordinated communication between countries is essential to monitor communicable diseases, which can quickly escalate into epidemics that know no national boundaries.
Due to the extreme remoteness of the basin health centers, the terrain profile and distances between locations, the communication options are limited. Much of the coastline is still without mobile phone coverage, as well as electricity and running water. As such, to pilot a communications network, the Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic (LTFHC) elected to make use of High Frequency (HF) Long Wave Radios, currently the only practical and affordable way to overcome the current communications gap. In March 2012, the LTFHC installed HF radios at eight health centers in Moba, DRC, thus enabling them to communicate with the Moba Regional Hospital and each other, submit reports as required and provide monitoring and surveillance for DRC Ministry of Health activities.
Through this commitment, the LTFHC will expand this network and introduce Tethr, a data transfer technology, which will allow for the collection and sharing of written data, as well as the creation of an electronic medical records system.
LTFHC is now in a position to take what they have learned from the early stages of this project and perform critical improvements to the technology and thus is seeking funding for research and development (R&D) to incorporate insight provided by pilot projects.
LTFHC will be sourcing equipment locally where possible; however, some equipment will need to be sourced overseas. LTFHC is looking to collaborate with international shipping companies, clearing agencies (or organizations to serve as consignees for shipments) and transportation companies to assist with any materials/equipment coming in from overseas.
Equipment needs also include: Codan radios and solar panels.
LTFHC is open to collaborating with organizations that could use its data or communications technology in their catchment areas.