ICASIT’s Investment Generates Ripple Effect

Posted: May 17, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jocelyn Rappaport

Training a select few people and then watching this knowledge branch out and change people’s lives is what the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology (ICASIT) is all about.

Stephen Ruth
Stephen Ruth
Photo by Evan Cantwell

School of Public Policy professor Steve Ruth, director of the center, describes its international projects as “low in unit cost — high in yield.” For more than a decade, grants from organizations such as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Soros Foundation have helped ICASIT fund and establish IT projects in almost two dozen developing nations.

Several villages in Nepal — where ICASIT has helped teachers establish and use the Internet — have recently reported expanding their projects to include health care through telemedicine, papermaking, and additional computer training and maintenance. What do all of these efforts have in common? They are all supported by ICASIT and train people who then return to their villages to train others.

For example, one success story in Nepal is the telemedicine program pilot project established in three isolated villages (Nangi, Ramche, and Tikot) in the Myagdi district.

When health care workers need advice on a specific problem, they are now able to call a doctor in the city hospital, something that was unheard of even in recent years. Through audio and video conferencing they discuss medical treatment options. The city doctor can also monitor cases from a wireless network camera.

Since June 2006, when the telemedicine program was established, people have received services ranging from prenatal health care to consultation on severe medical problems. The most dramatic story involved a patient suffering from a life-threatening illness who was treated successfully by local health workers with a doctor’s guidance during audio conferencing.

Now the villagers see a brighter future and hope to organize training programs for the village health care workers, such as having occasional refresher courses broadcast in from city doctors. This would likely require additional conferencing equipment. The villagers are also working on a project to develop software to provide more readily available data to doctors and hospitals. Students from Kathmandu Engineering College and doctors from Kathmandu Model Hospital have offered to assist with the development of the new software.

It is commonly recognized that the best way to continue to improve medical care in remote places is to organize training programs for health workers in other rural health centers and replicate what has worked for them. ICASIT’s initial investment will thus have a high yield.

“The process of how these projects originate almost always involves the same three requirements,” says Ruth. “It is necessary for there to be a strong commitment at the overseas site to deliver the project goals; careful and sustained collaboration with U.S. sponsors, including foundations, educational institutions and ICASIT; and a willingness to add new opportunities as they appear.”

Ruth adds, “Even if the project is in a faraway place, everyone needs to understand the importance of getting the highest possible yield on the investment — and I think ICASIT has been able to do that all over the world.”

To learn more about ICASIT’s programs, visit the web site.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in SPP Currents.

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