The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how critical digital networks are, especially in remote communities of developing countries. Internet connectivity in rural clinics is crucial to monitor the development of infectious clusters in remote areas and train local medical practitioners to cope with local outbreaks. It allows medical staff in these locations to provide a more effective response through access to up-to-date information and the ability to arrange medical supplies faster. The remote counseling from specialist city-based doctors also helps address local shortcomings in personnel skills at these rural clinics, allowing better implementation of life-saving techniques and faster critical decisions on medical evacuation.
Yet, many of the healthcare and public health systems in remote areas of Asia and the Pacific Islands are compromised by poor connectivity and by the lack of equipment required to care for COVID-19 patients, with insufficient healthcare workers and infection control training.
GuarantCo provided a USD 50 million partial credit guarantee to a private sector European institutional investor to support Kacific build, own and operate its first shared geostationary earth orbit, high-throughput satellite. The satellite delivers significant development impact to communities living in remote small island countries, larger populous islands like Indonesia, the Philippines and mountainous areas with a low population density where the only viable option to connect communities to broadband services is through satellite.
In response to the pandemic, PIDG Technical Assistance provided a USD 500,000 grant, channelled through GuarantCo, to support and accelerate Kacific’s roll out of its satellite communication systems distribution and broadband service programme. The TA grant has also successfully mobilised Kacific to make a dollar-for-dollar matching contribution (both installation costs and/or short-term free internet service) towards the programme, enabling more people to benefit from the internet service.
The COVID-19 response grant is being used for:
- The provision of internet-enabling equipment, such as antenna, modem, wifi transmitter, etc., at each selected rural site, including healthcare facilities and education institutions.
- The connection of rural clinics, health posts, and education institutions to an efficient and high-speed broadband service.
The programme is expected to benefit up to 1,000 rural health posts, clinics, and education institutes across Asia Pacific. As of February 2021, installation of hardware is completed at:
- 68 public health clinics and education institutions in Timor-Leste, benefiting 460,361
- 19 public health clinics in Papua New-Guinea, benefiting 49,570 people.
- 1 school in Philippines.
The installation is still ongoing in Papua New-Guinea and Philippines where 45 more clinics and schools will be benefited. The programme is also progressively rolling out to Vanuatu and Solomon Islands where 118 clinics and 1 school will be benefited, respectively. To avoid delays often caused by the need to install a costly solar system alongside to provide electricity, the PIDG TA grant will also fund solar systems to project sites where needed.
The recently installed satellite dishes are enabling community health workers to access the internet via mobile phones to seek specialist medical advice. In addition, the new technology and internet connectivity will enable more effective monitoring and communication during the pandemic. A long-lasting impact will be that broadband connectivity will enable these sites to conduct telemedicine more effectively, allowing national health systems to decentralise services more effectively to rural areas.