Miscellaneous Technology

5 Ways Satellite-Based Technology Is Empowering Medical First Responders in Remote Communities

Image courtesy Pixabay

First response teams working in remote, regional communities across the Middle East and Africa have been a vital part of the COVID-19 response. First responders have been a crucial part of managing and containing localized outbreaks, and providing urgent care and advice outside of hospitals. However, these teams face significant challenges that affect both their welfare and the work that they do.

Here we look at common challenges faced by remote first responders, in the MENA region especially during the COVID-19 crisis, and how technology is helping them overcome these. 

The challenges

The remoteness of the regions set significant difficulties to first responders. These include:

1. Communications challenges

Using standard GSM networks in populated areas means that it is straightforward to set up quick and reliable communications in these places. However, in remote areas, the opposite is true. The lack of even a 2G connection makes it impossible to communicate with people outside the area, unless there is a different system set up. 

Poor communication systems cause enormous hurdles for remote first responders, who should be able to liaise with medical colleagues freely, transport agencies and others to provide the best care for their patients. 

2. Personal challenges

First response is a demanding line of work. The personal challenges are numerous: burnout and exhaustion are common; family and friends are far away; professional support and counseling are difficult to access. 

What is the solution?

First response teams need access to new technologies and communication solutions that enable them to communicate with ease. 

Thankfully, new satellite communication systems are available that are already making a vital difference to the work of first responders in remote regions. 

SATCOM technologies are recognized by the United Nations COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan as being a crucial tool for the fight against the new coronavirus pandemic. They are designed to improve the efficiency of communication across first response teams in remote, regional communities and are already being utilized across the MENA region.  

The most up-to-date satellite communication systems being used by first response teams offer the following features:

  • Operate from a virtual platform 
  • Can be stationed or be used in vehicles
  • Agile, compact and lightweight
  • Offer large data transfers
  • Video-calling enabled 

Nabil Ben Soussia is the CEO for Asia, Middle East, and CIS for IEC Telecom Group, a provider of this type of technology. 

He said, ‘Successful operations during the COVID-19 pandemic are dependent on timely and proper communication in affected communities. This is especially critical to first response groups or mobile hospitals who need to act fast in areas with no infrastructure. Now more than ever, telecommunications in general and satellite communications, in particular, are critical to support frontline workers. Our network management system OneGate, was designed to support communications in areas with no/limited GSM coverage. We can achieve this by enabling easy to access satcom connectivity to support a wide range of optimized communication applications. Operating from a virtual environment, all system updates and upgrades can be applied as and when required by a remote IT manager, eliminating a need to keep extra staff onsite”.

4 ways this solution is making a difference

How are these systems working at such a critical time?

1. Keeping teams connected on the go

Bridging the divide in digital reach has never been easier, with the use of global satellite connectivity. This helps to keep teams connected at all times and, in the event of any government or humanitarian situations, remote areas can always stay connected and be a few clicks away from communication.

By using the vehicular solutions like Voyager Edge V, any car/van can be transformed into a remote office. Thanks to the automated failover between GSM and satcom mode, this new system will ensure reliable connectivity for mobile units no matter how remote. Not only does Voyager Edge V expand the scope of operations, it offers a completely new perception of service delivery and creates new opportunities for public and private sectors.

2. Setting-up remote offices 

For long term deployments, high broadband data connectivity can be enabled via VSAT solutions. Such a setup may offer office-alike connectivity, including VPN and enabling big data transfers.

In this context, the ability to manage communication links and consumption limits is of essence.  A digital dashboard, like the one offered by OneGate, provides full control and visibility over existing traffic channels. Therefore, during periods of heavy usage, connectivity resources can be channeled to mission-critical operations.

All these features mean that first response teams can operate more efficiently and effectively. 

3. Enabling remote training and counselling

Social distancing required because of the pandemic has made it more difficult to provide staff with adequate training and counseling. 

In the past videoconferencing was reserved for GSM connected areas or VSAT-equipped humanitarian camps. Today, remote counselling is possible for any type of operation be it fixed or mobile – and no matter how remote. Optimized videoconferencing, like the one offered by OneTeam, will connect team members across the world over an encrypted channel with minimal bandwidth requirements.

4. Offering access to telemedicine

Telemedicine services are a fast-growing part of modern medicine. It gives people access to specialist doctors and health professionals from wherever they are. Many medics feel it is a valuable tool in ensuring that limited hospital resources are saved for the most acute cases, that medical services operate efficiently, and that access to healthcare is made more equal.

Satellite communications networks enable telemedicine to reach the most remote areas, potentially giving their populations access to the same or similar medical care that could be offered in urban areas. While there is still work to be done to ensure all the population has fair access to medical care, modern satellite communications are taking it a step closer to reality.  

5. Raising morale

Prolonged isolation away from loved ones is something that all remote teams must cope with. However, it is an issue where telecommunications is keen to help. Supporting front-line staff with both their work and their welfare is important. 

Wi-fi enablers built into SATCOM systems mean that a dedicated welfare network can be set up. Staff can connect their own personal devices to this network. Modern satcom solutions also support voucher functionality. It is an important welfare component, as each team member can be granted with communication credits as part of their social package. In addition, they may opt to purchase additional data bundles online staying in control of personal communication limits and however the ability to increase when needed.

SATCOM technology is enabling staff of medical organizations to communicate better, both amongst colleagues, patients and loved ones back home. It is envisioned that the use of this technology will grow further, continue to make a difference and ultimately save lives.

About the author


Nabil Ben Soussia

Nabil Ben Soussia is the CEO for Asia, Middle East, and CIS for IEC Telecom Group, one of the leading international providers of satellite communications services. Renowned for supplying high quality satcom solutions for more than 25 years, IEC Telecom delivers efficient end-to-end voice and data services when and where it matters most.