Improving healthcare in earthquake-hit Haiti

31 October 2012
Natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, can cause major destruction and affect the lives of thousands of people. Some of the biggest problems, particularly in poor countries, are access to proper healthcare and a breakdown in communications. Luckily, satellite technology can help to improve the problems many people face.
ESA supports a new system that can be used when there aren’t enough trained medical professionals or when phone networks don’t work in the aftermath of a disaster. Designed by companies in France and Portugal, the system is based on satellite telephones and satellite navigation. It makes up for the lack of local doctors and nurses by helping ordinary people to accurately report the symptoms of a patient.
A special system is used, designed for satellite and smartphones, which guides people through a series of steps so that they can send short text messages via satellite or a ground-based system. The information is then accessed by local and national health systems via the Internet and advice on how to deal with a patient can be given within a few minutes. Meanwhile, satnav signals show where the data are being sent, helping to put patients in contact with the nearest healthcare provider and to see where any potential epidemics might happen.

The system was used successfully in Haiti, where a massive earthquake struck in 2010. During a five-month trial in Carrefour, a poor district in the main city of Port-au-Prince, 10 teachers were trained to use the system. More than 4,300 symptom reports were sent, allowing health experts to diagnose and make decisions on treatment almost immediately. The system is being expanded to include more remote areas in Haiti.