|Issue:||Latin America I 2000|
|Topic:||The Impact of Broadband Availability In Latin America on the Growth and Development of On-line Health Care and Educational Services|
Latin America has 8.6 % of the worlds population, and is expected to reach 8.8% by the year 2025. Its population is predominantly young. It is the region of the planet with the highest concentration of people in the 10 – 44 year age group. The official language is Spanish in most countries, with the important exception of Brazil where Portuguese is spoken. In spite of the recent economic crisis in the major economies of the region – 1995 Mexican crisis and the devaluation of Brazilian currency in 1999 – financial advisory companies such as Merrill Lynch, foresee a favourable macroeconomics setting in 2000. Stabilization and growth of the economic indices, together with a great flow of long term foreign capital, is expected for the region in 2000. In 1999, the macroeconomic indices for this region with 515 million inhabitants, showed GDP of US$ 1.8 trillion and per capita income of US$ 3.551.
Latin American Internet Industry Specialists expect the Latin American Internet market to grow significantly in the next few years. The annual rate of growth by 2002 should reach 33% a year; this is 6% greater than the rate projected for The United States. In the past 2 years, Internet access has increased 111%, more than any other region in the world, and almost double the growth of the North American market during the same period. There are now 8.5 million Internet users in the region: Brazil is responsible for the biggest contingent, 45% of the total and with, 18%, Mexico is in 2nd place. Today 3.5% of the population have access to a personal computer, totaling 18.5 million units. In 1999 U$51 million was spent on Web advertising and e-commerce registered an increase of 175%. This significant growth can be credited to factors such as: increased competition among access servers; privatization of the telecommunication industry; tax reductions as a result of the first two factors; local government stimulation of industry expansion; and a much smaller starting base of users, compared to established markets, upon which to base the growth calculations.However, qualitative analysis reveals that the social inequality characteristic of Latin America, also holds in this market comprised mostly of high and upper middle class users. Broadband In only eight years we have seen an important evolution in the capacity of network data-transmission, especially of the Internet. In 1990, 14,4 kbps modems were introduced. In 1998, when ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) commercialization began, its 7.1 Mbps transmission speed cut download time by a factor of 400. The infrastructure needed for high speed Internet in Latin America is now being implemented. New backbones are being constructed and existing ones upgraded. The cost differs among the types of access technologies. ADSL costs on average US$49 per month for the subscriber, offering a permanent connection. Its weak point is the cost of the modem. Examples of telecommunication companies operating this technology in Brazil, the greatest market in Latin America, are CTBC Telecom and Telefonica. Cable modem is another access technology. It costs the subscriber between US$34 and US$46. It has the same strong and weak points as the previous technology. The companies in Brazil offering this technology are: TVA (Ajato), NetSul (Wire Net Modem), TVFilme (LinkExpress) and Globo Cabo(Vírtua). MMDS is a third option in access technology in Brazil: it has an average cost to the subscriber of US$ 46. Its weakness lies in the fact that, at present, it is unidirectional. As its strong side, MMDS is able to provide service in a wider area. For instance one central antenna can cover an entire small or midsize city. TVA (Ajato) and TV Filme (LinkExpress) offer this service in the Brazil. High speed Internet in Latin America is still in its implementation phase. We expect this technology to be more fully disseminated within the next 2 years. The impact these new technologies will have on the way companies will communicate and commercialize its products and services is impressive, it is in the social sector, more precisely education and health, that the benefit for society will be greatest. Education in Latin America Recently, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) published estimates of the resources invested in education in Latin America: in 1997, Brazil invested 4.8% of its GPD in education, Argentina 3.7% and Chile 3.2%. The distribution of resources among elementary, secondary and college studies was very uneven; 12,8 times more was invested in upper education than in basic education. The evaluation of key pointers, such as the average number of years spent by students in basic education, demonstrates low efficiency in the use of the resources. Another important point is inability to offer good quality education resulting from the lack of human resources and supplies outside of the big cities. The growth of Internet and the increase in the speed of network data transmission will revolutionize the educational system, for it will allow distance learning: professors and students will be able to interact closely, even though they may be physically distant. Online education allows students to interact within a more flexible time frame, to exchange experience with other students, to hand in schoolwork or to access school material. In Latin America, some Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are offering PCs and Internet access to people without means to buy them. These initiatives aim to foment distance learning and increase the level of schooling of the population, in an attempt to diminish existing socio-economic inequalities in the region. The model of great success is the Peruvian Scientific Network which has been quite successful; it has installed 580 booths for public access distance education on the Internet. An initiative of the Departments of Science and Technology, and Education in Brazil called the Public Virtual University of Brazil (UniRede), www.universidadevirtual.com.br, will integrate 49 public universities. The goal is to offer university courses to the countrys 600 thousand elementary school teachers. The information passes through the Internet by way of the National Research Network (RNP). The content, proper for broadband, will be produced by various universities. Therefore, broadband will become an important tool to democratize the access to information in Latin America. Health Care in Latin America Health Care in Latin America is facing important challenges to reduce the costs in the sector, to improve the efficiency in the use of the resources and to improve the public health indicators. Rising costs result from significant demographic changes. Populational increases coupled with the high cost of new diagnostic and therapeutic technologies, the inadequate use of these technologies, and lack of good information on the status of the populations health, hinder the formulation of effective health policy.The lack of integration and communication between the sectors key players aggravates the basic problems. Those who finance the public health care sector -the Government, employers and private insurance companies – do not share information with health care providers such as hospitals, laboratories and doctors. It is the patient, the most interested party of all, that pays the price. In most Latin America countries the public and private sectors have different objectives, strategic planning and actions. The public sector is responsible for delivering health care coverage. It has very limited resources available. Out-of-date, bureaucratic and political administration, as well as continuously changing objectives are responsible for a constant decline in the quality of the services delivered. Information technology, especially broadband, would be an important aid in the drive to increase the efficiency of the health system. Integration of the systems diverse players is a priority as is efficient, system-wide sharing, collection and analysis data to generate trustworthy information. Sharing of health indicator information among the players and improving the level of information to the patient, so he becomes a conscientious consumer, are both needed if the system is to improve. Broadband will improve the usage of scarce medical and human resources by allowing the patient to be monitored through telemetry, or even treated through robotics, at a distance. By using the Internet to transfer images and test results – computerized (CAT) scans, magnetic nuclear resonance (MRI) – medical opinions can be obtained from experts anyplace in the world. Massive databases for the storage of images and medical records, webcasts, teleconferencing for case discussions, remote (robotic) surgery done by specialists from wherever they may be and other interventions at a distance, dramatically magnify the scope of action of health care providers and their ability to provide quality care. The widespread availability of broadband will bring a great increase in the efficiency, quality and type of health services available to the public. Conclusion The information technology and telecommunications, especially broadband, are becoming important tools in the drive to democratize the public access to social services such as education and health care in Latin America. These new technologies promise to improve living conditions throughout the world and diminish the gap between the nations.