Chinese tech firm leads fight against poverty

Updated: 2013-03-27 10:50

By Michael Barris at the United Nations (China Daily)

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Chinese tech firm leads fight against poverty

Despite eradication efforts by the United Nations and other international organizations, poverty remains a global problem, affecting an estimated 1.29 billion people, according to the latest World Bank data. But now digital technology is proving to be a powerful weapon in fighting poverty.

That was evident on Monday and Tuesday when the Italy's UN mission hosted the 13th Infopoverty World Conference at the world body's New York headquarters. The theme was information and communication technologies - specifically "Innovations for Nation-Building and the Empowerment of People". Conferees talked about harnessing digital tools, which have already transformed finance, economic modeling and development strategies, to give even the poorest parts of the world hope.

Among the 60 or so presenters on hand was Lisa Zhang, president of Beijing's iMedcare Technologies Co. She explained that her company uses real-time Internet transmission capability to remotely bring top medical expertise to very poor areas, at relatively low cost.

To get the point across, iMedcare's Milan-based partner, Luca Neri, who has worked to bring ultrasound technology to impoverished areas via the Internet, demonstrated how technology enables a doctor in New York to analyze, in real time, an ultrasound exam performed thousands of miles away in Italy and use data transmitted like in a mobile-phone call to prescribe treatment.

In one frame, Neri's assistant in Milan performed an ultrasound exam on a patient. In addition to various data, the screen showed ultrasound waves as they spread across the area of the patient's body being examined. Ultrasound uses an oscillating sound pressure wave to detect and measure various conditions.

"We are just using the mobile network, not some expensive technology - just using what we would for a mobile phone," Neri said. He called remote application of ultrasound in this way an example of "cost-effective" medicine.

Liu Jie, iMedcare vice-president, said the company chose to work with the group Neri runs because of the Italian doctor's reputation with Winfocus, an organization that works to improve medical care by incorporating "point of care" ultrasound into clinical practice.

"We have a very powerful doctor-adviser team back in Beijing," Liu said. "Some of our doctors are using the system. Neri visited the hospital and thought our system was great. He told us at the very beginning that this is what he has dreamed of."

The Chinese system allowed Neri to develop his efforts to address medical needs in underdeveloped regions in Brazil, Africa and India, Liu said.

Neri, according to Liu, "has a lot of resources back in Milan that he couldn't use because of the geographic distance. Using this, he could manage more programs more conveniently, more efficiently. Otherwise, it's impossible."

Zhang said that working with the Milan team benefits iMedcare by giving the company access to Neri's knowledge and experience. "That's very important," the company president said.

Brochures distributed by iMedcare at the UN conference illustrated how the company's technology can be applied in three systems: interactive multimedia clinical information, health management services and "intelligent rescue".

Interactive multimedia clinical information involves applying information management to healthcare, scientific research and education. In making it possible for a medical expert thousands of miles away to review in detail a patient's clinical data, such systems use video and text in transmitting diagrams and charts to coordinate the specialist's remote guidance with care provided at the community level.

The system can bring "high-standard" health care resources "beyond the first-class hospitals and into those remote areas with poor medical resources", so that the most highly skilled doctors are guiding treatment remotely, in real time, an iMedicare brochure said. Examination and treatment records are saved for future review.

Health management services enable doctors and patients to monitor chronic diseases through broadband Internet or Wi-Fi networks. This kind of system sizes up a user's health trends and provides medical guidance according to type of disease. Monitored statistics include blood pressure, electrocardiography, blood-glucose and blood-oxygen levels, fat and posture. The gathered data can be transmitted to the patient's doctors, relatives and friends.

The "intelligent rescue" system brings together a emergency scene, call center, hospital and experts, making use of wireless networks, fixed-line telephones and other communications technology.

In February, Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, told a conference in Colombia that the proportion of the world's people living in extreme poverty - lacking the means to secure life's basic necessities - is now half of what it was in 1990. But 1.29 billion people lived in absolute, or extreme, poverty as of 2008, according to the World Bank.

(China Daily 03/27/2013 page1)