Several countries have accelerated their digital transformation efforts since COVID-19. Public services have been a key objective behind this progress – in particular those aimed at saving lives or sustaining livelihoods. In an era when health systems are stretched or unavailable, Telemedicine Houston, or healthcare delivered by digital means, is becoming increasingly important. A world post-COVID-19 could also greatly benefit from it.

This potential is evident in its impact in Pakistan. Over 9,000 people will have perished as a result of COVID-19 cases by December 2020. In an already strained and fractured healthcare system, a lockdown imposed in March 2020 interfered with many patients’ access to COVID-19 treatment and other related issues. The demand for qualified healthcare professionals for dealing with the ongoing pandemic remained high even after the lockdown was lifted in May 2020. Over 3,700 cases were reported daily in early December in Pakistan, a rise from over 2,000 in November. Hospitals remain understaffed and overburdened due to limited resources.

In Pakistan, patients fear hospital visits to avoid COVID exposure, just as in other countries. Those who are older, pregnant, and suffer from pre-existing conditions are at a higher risk and require more medical attention. As the pandemic continues, telemedicine is playing a crucial role in being able to assist many patients in need.

 

The United Nations Development Programme is working to support Pakistan’s healthcare system. Through a partnership with Sehat Kahani, a social enterprise in the health tech sector with 27 e-clinics across Pakistan, which connects patients with qualified doctors, the United Nations Development Programme is working to support Pakistan’s healthcare system.

 

Through Yaran-e-watan, physicians and specialists of Pakistani origin reached out to continue their practice through telemedicine in order to improve healthcare services for all in Pakistan. The application was staffed with more than 30 experts in pulmonary medicine and critical care during this time of crisis. Patients have been able to access teleconsultations using a mobile application from the comfort of their own homes, via their smartphones. COVID-19-related information is available 24/7 via a helpline. Patients can also get advice from an online doctor and follow ups during home isolation if they are positive for COVID-19.  COVID-19 suspects made up 3% of consultations.

As part of a partnership with the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulation and Coordination (MOH), UNDP and Sehat Kahani have upgraded 60 ICUs in Pakistani public and private hospitals to Tele-ICUs. Thousands of patients at hundreds of hospitals can now be monitored virtually by thousands of critical care nurses and intensivist doctors thanks to this. Four thousand doctors will be trained to use this platform throughout Pakistan in the coming months. As a remote monitoring technology at the ICUs, this technology enables hospitals to prevent potential patient complications and provides added clinical support.

 

 

 

 

 

The UNDP Pakistan’s Project Manager for Youth Empowerment Program, Laura Sheridan, explained the multifaceted advantages of telemedicine, saying,

There is no doubt that telemedicine can provide quality health care to remote communities where healthcare systems are inadequate, at a cost that is both accessible and affordable. Furthermore, it maximizes the potential of women physicians who are not being utilized to the fullest extent possible due to societal and cultural norms. As part of UNDP’s goal of improving the lives of people in Pakistan, telemedicine contributes to the building of a more equitable and resilient society.

During the pandemic, Dr. Sara Saeed Khurram and Dr. Iffat Zafar Aga explained their role with Sehat Kahani;

It has been observed that COVID-19 has had a multiplier effect on myriad lives globally. As an interim step, Sehat Kahani made the GP services free for all its customers back in March. Times are tough, but we as a nation must stand together to emerge stronger and more united.

In addition to Brazil, India, the Philippines, and Nigeria, Telehealth has also been proven successful and effective during the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth can significantly improve health equity beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in countries with low primary healthcare coverage, by allowing patients who face geographic obstacles or disabilities to have improved access to healthcare.