Chernobyl Telemedicine Project
Update: September 1, 2005. Now under Preparation of the Final Report of the Joint Project with WHO/HQ, Sasakawa Memorial Health Foundation (SMHF) and Belarus from 1999 to 2004.
Results of the WHO and SMHF medical screening from 1991 to 1996 demonstrated a dramatic increase of thyroid cancer in children around Chernobyl. This increasing ratio of thyroid cancer is probably due to the internal exposure of short-lived radionuclides, such as I131. On the other hand, since the doses of residential direct external exposure due to the accident were relatively low, no evidence of increased ratio of childhood leukemia was observed.
In this point of view, WHO and SMHF considered in 1998 that one of the important tasks in the continuation of humanitarian medical aid assistance to countries affected by the Chernobyl accident is the strengthening of medical care facilities, mainly in the areas most radio-contaminated and with the largest number of childhood thyroid cancer patients though the development of “healthtelematics”. As a model case, Belarus has been chosen to be supported.
The 58th World Health Assembly (WHA) has adopted a resolution encouraging more work on eHealth in May, 2005. eHealth, used to be called Telemedicine, is the cost-effective and secure use of information and communication technologies in support of health and health-related fields, including health care services, health surveillance, health literature and health education. Before this latest Resolution, the Resolution 49.22 of the 49th WHA urged Member States to participates actively in, and provide further support, for the implementation of the International Programme to mitigate the Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident. The idea to establish the health telematics project was supported by the positive outcome of the earlier Second Chernobyl Sasakawa Medical Aid Project in the introduction of a satellite-based telecommunication system between Gomel Specialized Medical Dispensary, Belarus and Nagasaki University School of Medicine, Japan from February, 1999. In May 1999, immediately after the Resolution 49.22, the WHO/HQ and SMHF, in cooperation with the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Belarus, had established a joint project called "Medical Relief for Children affected by the Chernobyl Accident through the Development and Implementation of Health Telematics" in the total budget of one million dollars.
After the pilot study in 1999, the telecommunication infrastructure, development of telepathology (remote diagnosis of thyroid caner) and of tele-education from 2000 were established. The following activities have been done within a framework of this project.
- Establishment of special network links between medical institutions in Minsk and Gomel, in ooperation with Belarusian Center for Medical Technologies (BelCMT).
- Development of telepathology software and training of specialists by Belarussian State Medical University (BSMU) used to be Minsk State Medical University.
- Development of tele-education software for medical students and doctors by Belarussian State Medical University and Gomel State Medical University (GSMU).
- New challenge of Telemedicine around Gomel region
In July 2004, the launch of the system was completed (see attached schema). For further development of the project, it is planned to link this system to Chernobyl Tissue Bank project, in order to improve the pathological review system of thyroid cancer operated around Chernobyl. Moreover improvement of local network system for tele-consulation in Gomel region is now under planning.
Therefore the final report from BelCMT, BSMU and GSMU is now under preparation and their final evaluation will be performed soon. We also appreciate the scope and structure of the WHO eHealth programs kindly introduced by Dr. Jean-Claude Healy. Finally special contribution will be added from the valuable experience of radiation emergency medicine through an internet-based exercise in the former USSR. The final report will be delivered through this web-site before the end of 2005.
Further fundamental information: