Pakistan is experimenting with a
relatively new model of healthcare delivery: telemedicine. For
distance-based medical services to be successful, however, projects
must grapple with challenges like inadequate infrastructure and
patient distrust of the concept.
In the 10 months since the organization
TeleSehat opened a second pilot telemedicine center in the Pakistani
city of Gujar Khan, more than 3,000 patients have been treated. Such
numbers point to the great potential of telemedicine to bridge the
healthcare divide in Pakistan.
Due to an insufficient healthcare
budget, a shortage of good doctors, and poor, ill-equipped public
hospitals, Pakistan is unable to provide all its citizens with even
basic healthcare services. Given the sheer lack of healthcare
facilities in remote villages, villagers suffering with serious
illnesses and health emergencies often have no other option but to
travel extensive distances into the main cities. As the cost of
traveling is prohibitive for many who survive on meager incomes,
these villagers either rack up great debts or forego medical
Closing the healthcare gap between
those who live near medical facilities and those who do not was the
impetus behind TeleSehat (‘Sehat’ is Urdu for ‘Health’). Asad
Karim (also the CEO of a local technology firm, Comcept) and Syed
Mahmood Hussain launched TeleSehat in the summer of 2008. They
founded the organization to establish telemedicine centers to deliver
healthcare to Pakistanis living in inaccessible locations.
Telemedicine is not a completely new
concept to Pakistan, and certain projects have been quite noteworthy.
Launched in 2001, the Tele-Health Programme, for instance, was the
country’s first telemedicine initiative. Jaroka Tele-healthcare,
Sehat First and TeleDoctor, all similar local telemedicine
initiatives, soon followed.
But the question remains: Can
telemedicine prove successful in a country like
“Telemedicine is the only hope for countries like
Pakistan”, insists TeleSehat’s head of business development,
Nabeel Ahmad Malik. “However, this can only prove successful if the
service delivery model is designed in a way that it suits all the
stakeholders, which includes hospitals, doctors, TeleSehat itself,
the local population and the respective government”.