- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2000

A team of Cisco Systems software engineers is in South Africa this week pitching its new technology that they say could help slow the spread of AIDS, especially in Third World regions where access to information technology is rare.

The engineers, who work in Herndon, Va., are presenting their technology to nearly 10,000 medical and government policy representatives from all over the world at the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, which ends Friday.

AIDS has killed almost 19 million people worldwide so far, and more than two-thirds of those carrying the disease live in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations. Other reports show that AIDS and related illnesses will leave 30.2 million children without one or both parents in the 34 sub-Saharan countries, Asia, Latin American and the Caribbean.

The spread of AIDS has been slowed in the United States and Europe at least temporarily with the help of mass education programs. But health officials in most developing countries have not had the resources to effectively disseminate information about the deadly disease.

The Ministry of Health in Egypt, concerned about the rapid spread of AIDS and other infectious diseases throughout Africa, decided a year ago that the best way to keep track of the disease would be to connect all 400 medical facilities in the country via the Internet. Such a system would allow medical workers to share information and track the location of the illness.

While AIDS is a major concern in Egypt, health officials there were also concerned about diseases such as cholera, malaria and yellow fever. Doctors had the content and the idea for a network of information, but they didn't have the technology.

That's where Cisco came in.

"We are not going to invent a vaccine or a procedure. We are just changing the way experts are able to work together to address the concern," said Jim Messa, director of the Cisco Systems Strategic Global Alliances in Herndon.

The Internet-based network acts as a centralized warehouse for information. Doctors from 400 medical facilities in 43 provinces in Egypt feed statistics into the network, allowing it to map regions and show where the disease is increasing or diminishing.

The network "has helped effectively the tracking of infectious diseases," Mr. Messa said.

"This helps in terms of knowing where to send health care providers or educators. It shows the urgent spots who needs what, when," he added.

The technology was put in place in Egypt last summer. Cisco officials would neither disclose the terms of its arrangement with Egypt, nor discuss the dollar value of its technology.

One of Cisco's competitors in this field, Nortel Networks Corp. of Canada, is providing similar services for international projects throughout Africa.

The two companies' services are valuable because "just tracking AIDS in Africa is a considerable challenge," Mr. Messa said. "In the past, [Egyptian] medical organizations worked independently, and may or may not have reported to other what they are going … now they are working together."

Companies like Cisco and Nortel see Africa as an untapped market where information technologies are increasingly needed. After this week's presentation, Cisco hopes to gain more clients in Africa.

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