Like most ambitious projects, this one too began as an idea, seemingly unachievable. In 2004, when the former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, spoke at the inaugural session of the Pan-African Parliament in Johannesburg, the idea sounded fantastic.
He proposed that all 53 nations of the African Union be connected through satellite and a fibre optic network with India to provide effective tele-education and telemedicine, not to mention Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), e-governance and e-commerce service.
On Wednesday, J.S. Chhabra, executive director, Telecommunications Consultants India Limited (TCIL), a Central government enterprise, confirmed that the idea was well on it way to being implemented in its original grandeur. India was utilising modern information and communication technologies to bring the best educational facilities and affordable health care to the rural areas of the African continent, he said.
What drives the programme is strong undersea cable network and satellite connectivity (C-Band with INTELSAT-904/RASCOM). A satellite hub station will be located in Africa and connected to 10 superspecialty hospitals and five universities. The universities will be directly linked to 53 learning centres in Africa, and the hospitals to 53 remote hospitals in rural areas in that country.
One tele-education terminal (learning centre), one telemedicine terminal, and one VVIP communication node for the head of State will be set up in each participating nation. The TCIL is responsible for designing the network, procuring and installing the equipment and providing operation and maintenance support for five years.
A data centre is at the TCIL office in New Delhi to serve as a hub for all Indian sites. The network is designed to have 169 terminals and a central hub to deliver the services. It utilises state-of-the-art technology that can be integrated with the latest broadband technologies like Wi-Fi and WiMax.
The network is also scalable to support different applications and to an increased number of users, according to the TCIL.
What is envisaged is educating 10,000 students over five years in the tele-education sector. As for telemedicine, online medical consultation has been promised for about 79,000 hours and offline advice to five patients per day for each country for three years. Continuing Medical Education (CME) programmes are the highlight because they serve to train doctors and nurses in remote centres in Africa.
At one of the medical institutions that is part of the network — Sri Ramachandra University, Chennai — the first CME on cardiac care was delivered by S.Thanikachalam, director and chairman, Cardiac Care Centre.
Other reputed medical and educational institutions in the country would soon become part of the network, adding support to the cause, Mr. Chhabra said. From the African side, 44 countries have already joined the project.