Learning from low income countries: what are the lessons?
Health information technology need not cost the earth
Luis Carlos Silva, senior researcher
Pedro Urra, director
National Cuban Centre of Medical Information, CALLE 23 Esq N, 10400, Vedado, Ciudad de la Habana
EDITORóIn the early 1990s the Soviet Union’s disintegration produced a sudden shrinkage of Cuba’s economy. US sanctions were tightened, and Cuba was in economic crisis. Long hours of blackout daily became common.
These adverse circumstances affected a country with limited material resources and few computers and telephone lines, as health informatics began its impressive development in most industrialised countries. However, Cuba had an efficient nationwide health system and huge human potential. Thus INFOMED, Cuba’s national online healthcare information network, was founded in 1991.
INFOMED is now a national online healthcare information network connecting doctors, hospitals, research facilities, medical universities, and rural clinics throughout the country and providing health news and medical data. The project required an expensive physical infrastructure, so for the first five years the scope of the network was small. However, within only 18 months, a simple network was established. Linux OS was used because it conforms with the Cuban philosophy of an open source approach.
Some funds were supplied by the Cuban ministry of health, as well as by the United Nations development programme (in association with the Pan American Health Organization). Subsequently, the scope of the network was significantly enlarged using finances from consultancy projects and other services offered to several enterprises. It has also received regular help and hardware donations from the US non-governmental agency INFOMED USA. The website (http://www.sld.cu) has been particularly used and useful. The UN has awarded the network special recognition.