LONDON: A leading Pakistani doctor has said that Pakistan’s creaking health system can be helped through investment and funding and use of innovative technologies. An example of this, developed by Heartfile, an NGO, was featured at the House of Lords here on July 11.
Dr Sania Nishtar, founder of Heartfile and Heartfile Health Financing, told a parliamentary seminar here that Pakistan’s creaking health system could be helped through innovative health financing, which is a new concept but had proven to be very effective in helping the most vulnerable sections of Pakistani society.
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior hosted the seminar, which was attended by a large number of medical figures and leading members of Pakistani diaspora communities in the UK.
Dr Nishtar, who is Pakistan’s most powerful health policy voice in Pakistan and internationally renowned as a leader in global health, told the participants about Heartfile Health Financing, an IT-enabled and mobile health integrated social platform system that can be accessed by registered health workers using mobile telephony on behalf of their patients.
This is designed to help the poorest of the poor in Pakistan where healthcare charges account for more than 70 percent of the economic shocks faced by impoverished households. Sixty percent pay for healthcare out of their pockets.
Pakistan leads the world in this technology, informed Dr Nishtar, who in July last was awarded the prestigious Global Innovation Award from the Rockefeller Foundation, alongside President Bill Clinton for her contributions in global health. She said Pakistan and many other developing and underdeveloped countries have major health problems where many people live below the poverty line. If patients need to get treatment for a major illness, then they will often have to borrow money, selling their belongings to afford it, she said, explaining how she started with a small fund and a technology interface integrated with mobile phones.
Dr Nishtar said Pakistan is a poor country of 180 million people, and of these nearly 100 million have access to phone. “Mobile phones are strength and can be used as an access care tool. We are deploying mobile phone enabled technology in hospitals to ensure that doctors send us SMSs that assist us in the mobilisation of volunteers to help locally as soon as possible. We provide financial assistance in a timely manner,” she said. “Our programme is currently small but has the potential to be scaled up.”
She said that this kind of help was resource-dependant and she was taking the concept to the diaspora and international communities to create awareness about the health issues of Pakistan and how impoverished people can be helped. “Our objective is global awareness creation.”
After the parliamentary session, Dr Nishtar launched the Heartfile Leaders’ Network to promote the objectives of Heartfile Health Financing. Many prominent figures around the world are joining the network. Dr Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet, moderated the symposium. On the symposium panel were Professor Rifat Atun, Professor of International Health Management at the Business School and the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London; Richard Blewitt, CEO of HelpAge International; and Professor Sir Eldryd Parry, founder of the Tropical Health Education Trust.
Professor Atun emphasised the role civil society can play in tackling global health issues. He termed Sania Nishtar as an ambassador for Pakistan, a global civil society leader innovator. Richard Blewitt praised the work of Dr Nishtar and Heartfile while explaining that attention needed to be given to the prevention of health emergencies as developing countries face rapidly aging populations. Sir Eldryd Parry reported on his recent experiences in Ethiopia and the importance of the developing world exchanging technological innovations and learning from other countries’ experiences.