Chile's telemedical project

Chile has four year-round bases in Antarctica. There, as for any country with permanent interests in the Earth's coldest, windiest and most remote continent, the well-being of the personnel deployed at the bases is of the utmost concern. That is why the Chilean National Antarctic Institute (INACH, for its acronym in Spanish) joined the international ARGONAUTA telemedicine project.

According to INACH documentation, the ARGONAUTA project (Austral On Line Network for Medical Auditing and Teleassistance) was started in October 1997, with the co-funding of the European Union. The countries involved are: Argentina, Chile, Germany and Italy. Each country acts through two institutions which in the case of Chile are Instituto Antártico Chileno (INACH) and the Experimental Medicine Department of Universidad de Chile.

The program deals with the application of information and communication technologies in the fields of health care, continuing medical education, and research on health care systems. In the case of INACH, this development and its telematics implementation are established between the Chilean Antarctic Bases and the city of Santiago (Chile), where the main hospitals are located. The Chilean Antarctic population consists of people spending the whole year in the bases, even families with children and scientists who go there in the summer to do their research. Access to medical assistance is critical, especially during the winter.

Ricardo Jaña, researcher at the INACH, reported from one of the bases that the medical database is published on a HTML server located at INACH headquarters in Santiago, using Linux kernel 2.0.36, Perl 5, SSL and Apache 1.3 as web server software. For enhanced security, the implementation comprises six different configuration levels on software commercial tools. These include user authentication, encryption and some CGI scripts that allow free text search on multimedia html records.

A hospital, with a permanent doctor, and a biomedical laboratory have been established at the Profesor Julio Escudero Antarctic base, located at the Fildes peninsula, King George Island. From there, they offer technical support for teleassistance services, and provide a health database of the scientists living and working there. Besides, the project provides for biomedical research in extreme environments.

The Antarctic node is able to connect to any other ARGONAUTA node partners through a satellite communication link. This link is set on six lines: three dedicated phone lines (only for voice and fax communication), two 2.4K bps point-to-point lines (that support dial-up modems) , and one point-to-point 38.4K bps dedicated line, that provides Internet access. The Antarctic telemedicine workstation is part of the INACH local area network (LAN), that extends from Santiago to Antarctica through a point-to-point line.

In the future, INACH plans to extend their medical teleassistance to other countries' Antarctic settlements.

Besides, the project is supporting some basic biomedical research. The main research lines are: alterations of the sleep-wakeness cycle; studies of somnography in connection with chronobiological periods, oftalmological studies and cardio-breathing physiology, among others. This research, says Jaña, extends beyond Antarctica to embrace all human activities, especially at high risk, high stress environments, like space exploration and submarine settlements.

More information about the Argonauta project can be found at http://www.argonauta.de. The Chilean Antarctic Institute can be contacted at + 56- 2-2318177or at http://www.inach.cl. The Fildes peninsula base can be reached at +56 2 420-0214.

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