BANGALORE, India (AFP) -India plans to launch a communications satellite exclusively for health care so patients and doctors in remote rural areas can consult specialists in cities, the head of the country's space agency said Thursday.
Healthsat, to be launched within four years, will have wireless and terrestrial communication links, G. Madhavan Nair, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, told reporters.
"Right now we will use the existing satellite transponders to serve 100 telehealth stations, including district hospitals and speciality hospitals, around the country," Nair said.
"Next year we may touch 500 such stations and in 2007 about 1,000. So within the next three to four years we will have one exclusive satellite for the purpose of telemedicine," he said.
Nair said the organisation may accept help from private corporations to fund the project.
"By the second half of this year we will bring in private partners. We are also thinking of helping neighbouring countries such as Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Myanmmar on their telemedicine projects," he said.
The space agency's telemedicine project, in which a patient in a remote area can consult a specialist in a city through a video satellite link, was launched in 2001 and so far has treated more than 25,000 patients.
"With 75 percent of the Indian population living in rural and remote areas and more than 75 percent of the expert doctors living in urban areas, the only way to bridge the rural-urban divide appears to be through telemedicine," Nair said.