Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital researchers are using the Saba online-collaboration platform to share information on AIDS research throughout the world.
Doctors, researchers and clinicians at Harvard University and Massachusetts
General Hospital are using the Saba
Centra software as a service online-collaboration platform to hold
online conferences with fellow doctors in areas such as South Africa, China and Nepal.
Massachusetts General is a teaching affiliate of the Harvard School of Medicine.
The Harvard University Center for AIDS Research and Massachusetts
General formed HOPE (HIV
Online Provider Education) in 2004 to allow HIV clinicians around the
world to collaborate and share insight on how to treat the disease.
HOPE has held regular virtual conferences since then and currently uses the Saba Centra VOIP (voice
over IP) application to meet bimonthly with overseas colleagues.
In addition to the United States, participating clinicians are located in the United Kingdom, Africa, India, China
and the Dominican Republic.
HOPE aims to help those parts of the world increase training and education through the real-time Web interactive sessions.
The SAAS Saba platform runs in the cloud and is accessible on the
Apple iPad or iPhone. The application features SSL encryption.
without a microphone are able to follow along using text chat.
For HOPE, Saba Centra provides the simplicity the organization
needed for doctors to log in easily and quickly within 5 to 10
minutes to share their findings on AIDS research with other colleagues
on the other side of the world, Rishabh Dev Phukan, clinicial research
Massachusetts General and the program coordinator for HOPE, told eWEEK.
The organization keeps an online archive of past conferences so that
doctors and researchers can access conferences they may have missed due
to time differences. They can then follow up with questions.
"We needed something that wasn't very data intensive," Phukan said, noting the slow connectivity of colleagues in
Third World countries such as South Africa.
A 15-second window in packet transmissions allows for problems in connections that may occur without losing the link altogether.
"If people have small gaps of connectivity, they're normally not
phased out of a conference unless their Internet fails, which is
really helpful since South Africa is not really reliable all the time,"
Due to the slow connections in various countries, adding video to
the conferences has been difficult for participants. "If the
speaker is based in South Africa, a lot of times we don't do it because
we're afraid we're going to get kicked off their Internet," Phukan
Still, the video option is popular among colleagues. "A lot of the
physicians really like that it's much easier to look on a screen and
see someone talking when you're asking questions," he said.
And Saba Centra users often have a bigger audience than just one
person on the other side, according to Phukan. "You can't always tell
how many people are behind a username," he said.
The bimonthly conference grew out of a yearly course held in South Africa.
In the Web conferences, experts discuss topics that include
transmission of HIV among new mothers and children and the neurological
of HIV, Phukan said. The organization has also discussed with remote
how to manage side effects in drugs as well as when to start treatment
such as antiretroviral therapy, which are drugs aimed at halting the
replication of HIV strains in an infected patient.
"There's a pretty big disconnect between the drugs that are
available in South Africa and the drugs available in the U.S.," Phukan
said, while noting that some drugs in South Africa are no longer used
in the United States.
"When HIV positive, there's a balance that plays out between your
immune system and the virus and in what point do you want to start
treatment," Phukan said. "The answer is always as early as possible."
With strains of HIV spreading in South Africa that haven't appeared
in the United States since the '90s, researchers in the states are
able to learn from their counterparts in that region on how to deal
with these strains, he explained.
In fact, Massachusetts General and the Harvard Center for AIDS Research have been
able to pool resources via the Saba Centra Web conferences with McCord
Hospital in South Africa.
"Only now has South Africa been getting a lot more experienced in treating HIV. They see a lot more patients than we do here
now," Phukan said. "So it's been kind of interesting-the dynamic, the give and take, how the dynamic has shifted." More than 25 million people have died from AIDS
in the last 25 years, according to the World Health Organization.
addition, 33.3 million people worldwide were living with the disease as
of 2009, the organization reports. Within 33 countries, cases of HIV
had fallen by
more than 25 percent between 2001 and 2009, according to UNAIDS (the
Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS).
Brian T. Horowitz is a freelance technology and health writer as well as a copy editor. Brian has worked on the tech beat since 1996 and covered health care IT and rugged mobile computing for eWEEK since 2010. He has contributed to more than 20 publications, including Computer Shopper, Fast Company, FOXNews.com, More, NYSE Magazine, Parents, ScientificAmerican.com, USA Weekend and Womansday.com, as well as other consumer and trade publications. Brian holds a B.A. from Hofstra University in New York.