`Technology must take healthcare to remote areas'

CHENNAI OCT. 10. Technological advances in medicine should help in delivering healthcare to remote areas and people, who cannot afford modern treatment, the President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, said here today, after dedicating to the nation a mobile rural teleophthalmology project of the Sankara Nethralaya.

Calling for an integral module for rural areas, he said the time was ripe for creating an integrated mobile medical unit, combining complete healthcare, telemedicine and teleophthalmology.

"Emerging technologies in virtual reality and micro-machines will transform the healthcare scenario in the country, and this transformation should help people who cannot afford modern medicalcare."

The President was delivering the commemorative address of the silver jubilee of the Sankara Nethralaya. He also dedicated to the nation a brachytherapy project for ocular tumours and held a teleconference with patients at Orikkai in Kancheepuram district through the mobile unit.

Pointing to the poor doctor-patient ratio and lack of fully-equipped medical facilities in rural areas, he said telemedicine could help in connecting primary health centres with area, district and specialty hospitals. Teleophthalmology, he said, would minimise delay in diagnosis of ocular diseases and would be economical for the patients, as they would not have to travel far for treatment. Mr. Kalam suggested that stem cell research be combined with brachytherapy for a fast and preventive cure.

Referring to the Healthcare Technology vision document, evolved as part of the Technology Vision 2020, the President said its major recommendations were on developing eye lasers with slit lamps for treatment of post-glaucoma and cataract and going for large-scale production of cost-effective vitamin-A tablets. The document also suggested laser treatment for diabetic retinopathy to arrest eye bleeding, and a management system for eye care.

Mr. Kalam said a national mission for fast-track treatment methods must be evolved, involving various missions and mission-oriented doctors. The focus of eye care should be on children, to achieve `Defect-free vision for all' as a national mission. Screening programmes for children should be held in schools and villages, and those with defects should be referred to the institute for further investigation and treatment.

Bridging the chasm

The other projects dedicated to the nation were the Sankara Nethralaya ORBIS Paediatric Ophthalmology Project and the ONGC Molecular Biology and Genetics Project. A guidebook `Sankara Nethralaya Preferred Practice Patterns' was released.

The chairman, Sankara Nethralaya, S.S.Badrinath, said the institution would create a National Ophthalmologic Institute for Research and an institution for cataract surgery. "We need Indian solutions to Indian problems." The institution would design strategies for early detection of blindness due to diabetes and mine available data for planning the future of ophthalmological healthcare.

Earlier, P.S.Ramamohan Rao, Governor, said the projects dedicated to the nation would bridge the chasm between villages and cities and help in extending the reach of excellence to remote areas.

N.Thalavai Sundaram, Health Minister, said Sankara Nethralaya's teleopthalmology project would help in reducing blindness and reiterated the government conviction in private-public partnerships in delivery of healthcare.