63% of Pakistani population live in rural areas, where access to quality medical services has no existence. Where there there is a tiny smidgen of a working healthcare system, mismanagement, unaffordable charges while incompetency and inefficiency is prevalent. As a result, rural villagers rely on witch-doctors, old wives tales and religious mystics. Pakistan is one of the three remaining countries with endemic polio and the sixth highest with burden of tuberculosis, diseases which are effortlessly preventable through the use of vaccinations.
Despite the government and many donor agencies (including USAID, DFID, EDHI etc.) constantly working on the country’s mission to target and get rid of specific health care problems including; easily curable illnesses such as malnutrition, diarrhea, and acute respiratory illnesses (which are the major causes of the high neonatal, infant and under-5 mortality rates in rural Pakistan) and with reproductive and sexual healthcare frowned upon and neglected, their methods to solve such issues are somewhat ineffective and cheap. Unsurprisingly, Pakistan is currently in the lowest part of the bottom quartile on healthcare spending per person, with the total expenditure on health being 2.6% of GDP, according to The World Bank.
Other than the lack of money being spent to improve medical facilities, the boundaries brought on by physical distances between urban cities and agricultural Pakistan also plays a huge role in the widespread disturbance of the country’s health system.
And some are taking note of this dilemma and providing ingenious solutions; a national startup company, ClubInternet, recently ran a small pilot to connect a portion of their user base from rural areas to doctors in urban cities. The idea was that the users will get reliable medical advice, with the caveat that the doctor would only advise on non-emergency issues through the use of an internet based app.
mHealth, also most commonly known as mobile healthcare technology, is already changing the way doctors and patients interact. The technology is proving most efficient and effective with social media applications removing topographical, and communication barriers presented to healthcare professionals, and providing patients with the opportunity to speak to professionals suited to treating their illness than relying on unorthodox methods of treatment, at a much relatively lower cost.
One example of mHealth services is provided by the company Chughtai Lab, where patients have remote access to their reports on their smartphones via an app and view them online instantly, providing the patient with the opportunity to better understand their diagnosis.
Unlike Chughtai Lab, where the patient must first physically arrive at a specified location to give samples, there is another company that is working on several mobile health solutions that could reach the market in the near future, including those that enable patients to undergo testing, diagnosis and treatment remotely.
The potential to gather increasing detail and quality about a patient’s symptoms and general health remotely and only sharing patient data with patient consent and in a way that is consistent with patient privacy, can help make healthcare more cost-effective as well as improving the quality of relationships between doctors and patients, particularly of those in rural Pakistan.
Through major innovations in mHealth, it is possible a significant improvement in how care is delivered, and accessed. Hopefully, with the presence of a healthcare professional, with the duty to educate people about hygiene and provide first-touch non-emergency health care, the results should amount to a more than better health system in Pakistan.