16 September 2005

United Nations Holds Workshop on the Use of Space Technology for Human Health     

VIENNA, 16 September (UN Information Service) -- The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA), within the framework of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications, will hold a five-day "Workshop on the Use of Space Technology for Human Health" for the benefit of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Workshop is being organized in cooperation with the Comision Nacional de Actividades Espaciales (CONAE) of Argentina. It is co-sponsored by the Government of Argentina and the European Space Agency (ESA), and will take place at the Mario Gulich Institute of Advanced Space Studies and the Teofilo Tabanera Space Centre in Cordoba, Argentina, from 19 to 23 September 2005.

Despite the advances of modern medicine, diseases like malaria, dengue fever and even the plague still afflict millions of people each year, crippling some while proving fatal to others. Many of the diseases are spread through mosquitoes, which can cause widespread epidemics by infecting people or animals, and then flying to another target. Malaria alone infects up to 500 million persons each year, killing at least a million. Advances in satellite remote sensing, global positioning and geographic information systems, as well as computer processing, now make it easier to integrate ecological, environmental and other data, to develop predictive models that can be used in disease surveillance and control activities. However, the capabilities of remote sensing technology have not been fully disseminated to the health investigators and agencies that could be using them. Landscape epidemiology will be among the first applications to be addressed by the Workshop.

Landscape epidemiology is a relatively new interdisciplinary approach that involves the characterization of eco-geographical areas where diseases develop. It can be understood as part of a second generation application of remotely sensed data where the target cannot be seen directly with satellite images. This is a holistic approach that takes into account the relationships and interactions between the different elements of ecosystems, under the assumption that the biological dynamics of both host and vector population are driven by landscape elements such as temperature and vegetation.

The other major topic to be addressed by the Workshop is telehealth/telemedicine, an area receiving worldwide attention, with the use of state-of-the-art space technology services. Telehealth/telemedicine consists of computer and telecommunications technologies, including satellite communications, to bring medical experts into virtual contact with patients in remote and rural areas, thus avoiding a costly relocation to hospitals in urban locales, which could prove detrimental to the patients' health.

Currently, the most important applications of mobile telemedicine have been in ambulances and on ships. There are some developments to provide medical services in the air. All of these locations can involve medical situations where time is critical, so speed of diagnosis is the primary reason to monitor the vital signs of patients and provide forewarning of treatment requirements to the hospital by satellite.

Following a disaster, terrestrial communications can be the first to suffer from the direct effects of earthquakes, fires or flooding. In these situations, satellites remain the only reliable means of direct connection to the disaster area where communication is critical for diagnosis, patient treatment and activity coordination. Satellite links can be installed in short periods of time.

In the area of telehealth/telemedicine, the Workshop will address: (i) satellite-based TV and radio broadcasting, which is an inexpensive platform for delivering health care education to distant locations; (ii) satellite-based communications, which are the most promising means for reaching underserved and isolated areas all around the world; (iii) satellite-based delivery in emergency situations; (iv) satellite-based services for mobile objects at sea, in the air and on land; and (v) hybrid satellite/terrestrial delivery platforms, which are currently cost-effective solutions to many point-to-point and point-to-multipoint applications.

Approximately 150 participants from the following countries and international organizations are expected to attend the Workshop: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, World Health Organization, Pan-American Health Organization, The American Telemedicine Association -- Latin America and Caribbean Chapter (ATALACC), ESA and OOSA.


The United Nations Programme on Space Applications is implemented by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs and works to improve the use of space science and technology for the economic and social development of all nations, in particular developing countries. Under the Programme, the Office conducts training courses, workshops, seminars and other activities on applications and capacity building in subjects such as remote sensing, communications, satellite meteorology, search and rescue, basic space science, satellite navigation and space law.

The United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA) implements the decisions of the General Assembly and of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and its two Subcommittees, the Scientific and Technical Subcommittee and the Legal Subcommittee. The Office is responsible for promoting international cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space, and assisting developing countries in using space science and technology. Located in Vienna, Austria, OOSA maintains a website at http://www.unoosa.org/ .

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For information contact:

Qais Sultan
Associate Programme Officer, OOSA
Telephone: +43 1 260 60 4962
E-mail: qais.sultan@unvienna.org