Friday December 09, 2022

Telemedicine could have mitigated health crisis during flood calamity, says Dr Azra

November 19, 2022

The scale of the recent floods was enormous and unfortunately, the government was not prepared for it. Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho made this candid admission at a seminar held at a hotel on Friday afternoon.

Titled ‘Telemedicine for Enhancing Flood Response and Improving Preparedness of Health System’, the seminar was hosted by the Tech4life Enterprises. The health minister said at the event that accessibility to rescue and health services had been a huge issue in the calamity as large communities were marooned by the floods that had wreaked havoc in rural areas.

“We had lady health workers who were giving talks on health and hygiene. They have got training in addressing health and hygiene issues, including menstrual hygiene. But telehealth was a missing element during the flood crisis,” she lamented, pointing out that the province had already passed a telemedicine and tele-health bill that required such practitioners to register themselves with the healthcare commission.

Dr Azra announced that the provincial government was going to launch a programme with the support of the World Bank to set up community centres to be linked with dispensaries where women, children and men would get telehealth sessions.

She lauded the Tech4life’s telemedicine kits and drones, and said the government had worked out a disaster mitigation plan, under which hospitals and mobile units would be set up and telemedicine and tele-health services provided. She added that it would go a long way in swiftly responding to any eventuality.

She was of the view that tele-health could be very useful for mental health. She said a centre for tele-mental health would be set up at the Jinnah hospital to engage affected communities and in addition to that two pilot projects would be implemented in Dadu and Kambar-Shahdadkot districts that were severely affected by the floods.

Dr Shariq Khoja, chief executive officer of the Tech4Life Enterprises, said the firm was working in 20 countries where many of the initiatives it had been part of were related to disasters. “We are targeting slums with no or little access to medical care on a regular basis,” he said, adding that they also identified and trained local people in using telemedicine equipment.

“Unfortunately, in Pakistan people still ask how telemedicine system is different from WhatsApp and Skype,” he remarked. “In many places, awareness has been created so people can understand that telemedicine solution is not just a means of two-way communication as

there are so many things attached to it, especially the work we have done to make sure data is protected and integrate technology and hardware so healthcare providers find it easy to use equipment and clear diagnostic images are made available.”

During a panel discussion, health experts stressed the need for use of telemedicine to bridge gap in providing healthcare services to the flood-affected people. The panelists included Sindh Healthcare Commission’s Dr Zainab Hassan, Ahsanullah Khan from Hands, Dr Haroon Khan from eHealth and Indus Hospital’s Dr Shakeel Akhtar.

The firm also put on display at the event telemedicine devices, including eSteth Digital Stethoscopes, Digital Cameras, Advanced Sijro Telemedicine kits for primary care, ambulances and disasters, and telemedicine drones.