Telehealth at the forefront of the pandemic
With the world in the grip of a pandemic and almost everything going remote and online, telemedicine has gained more relevance than it ever did in the past. Earlier, few realised its merit, but now more and more people have come to rely on it.
Keeping in view its growing need in changing times, a team of innovative minds from Pakistan were quick to respond to the call for an effective telemedicine platform and launched Educast.
This technology platform engaged non-practicing female doctors to provide medical advice, guidance and consultation to patients in Pakistan and elsewhere in Muslim countries.
Today, working in collaboration with the Sindh government's coronavirus monitoring cell, 450 female doctors are providing remote consultation to Covid-19 patients across 15 countries, including Pakistan.
However, this was not the initial plan.
Educast was first conceived as a telehealth platform aimed at reducing maternal and child mortality rates in Pakistan. Presented during an annual competition organised by the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) under its Transform Fund initiative, it was among the few selected startup ideas, chosen from 5,000, that were to receive assistance from the IDB.
Following this, the IDB and Educast signed an agreement, putting in writing their commitment to work towards decreasing maternal and child mortality in Pakistan.
But then, the coronavirus struck and things took a sudden turn. Quick thinking on the part of the Educast team altered the initial idea to set up a platform for providing counselling focused on the coronavirus instead.
Consequently, with a budding and expanding network of 400 trained e-doctors, the platform, in collaboration with Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah's telehealth initiative, began providing remote counselling to home-isolated Covid-19 patients from the first week of April.
Presently, with over 22,000 active coronavirus cases just in Sindh, Educast has expanded its network to include 450 female doctors, each of whom provide counselling and guidance to 15 patients a day on average. This total number of patients receiving assistance through the platform daily adds up to around 6,000, but according to Educast founder Abdullah Butt, these numbers need to be enhanced further.
He said that the project would be further scaled up with the assistance of the IDB, which would be providing a grant to train more doctors for online counselling so that Educast's network could initially be expanded to include 800 doctors and later to engage up to 2,000 medical experts. Besides, he said, setting up a call centre and launching a mobile application was also in the plans.
Butt also pointed out that even with doctors providing services for free, the cost of running the platform per month was around Rs500,000, while efforts needed to be directed towards increasing its network capacity, developing secure and efficient applications and improving technical facilities.
In this regard, the IDB has pledged the provision of support to Educast.
"We will provide the platform all the needed support through IDB's Transform Fund," said IDB global interdependencies science, technology and innovation manager Mosutafa Asim Azlubi, while speaking to The Express Tribune.
Assurances of support from the IDB have resulted in efforts to improve Educast's capacity to handle 256 calls simultaneously, through Australian software 3CX. But this needs to be enhanced further, considering the consistent rise in the number of coronavirus cases.
To make the network more efficient, Dr Faisal Mahmood of Aga Khan University Hospital and other renowned infectious disease specialists will soon be training female doctors to provide services through Educast, in a bid to play their part in help the world adapt to the changing times amid a pandemic. This move will help doctors make timely decisions while providing coronavirus-related assistance.