Sara SaeedWomen doctors for telemedicine in Pakistan
In the rugged hill country of rural Pakistan, doctors are few and nearly half of all families receive insufficient medical care, while in the cities, thousands of well-qualified female doctors stay at home, unable to practise their vocation. Pakistani doctor Sara Saeed has addressed both problems with a little digital magic to create a 21st century solution to the issue of healthcare delivery, one that has the potential to work in many remote communities around the world.
Saeed is co-founder and Chief Executive of Sehat Kahani, a service that connects home-based female doctors to people in underserved communities with a low-cost service via an electronic health (e-health) network.
Today, one out of every two people in low-income and rural areas of Pakistan cannot get basic healthcare. Pakistan has 170,000 doctors, 63 per cent of whom are female, with only 23 per cent returning to the workforce after marriage because they have families to raise or come from households where women are not permitted to work outside the home.
“It’s called the ‘doctor bride’ phenomenon,” Saeed explains. “A lot of female doctors do not work after getting their professional degree. Instead they become ‘doctor brides’ and stay at home having a family.
“We’re putting these female doctors back into the workforce within the cultural barriers that exist in Pakistan and connecting them to patients in low-income and rural communities where healthcare access is unavailable, using digital technology.”
The idea for the venture came to Saeed after having her first child. Saeed was living in a new city and was unable to leave her daughter to go to work. The experience made her understand how “doctor brides” must feel when they are housebound but still willing and able to share their skills.
Saeed has built a network of health e-clinics – using e-hubs – where nurses act as intermediaries to help patients in low-income and rural communities during tele-consultations with doctors for the full array of primary care services including tertiary care referral. Anyone in need of health advice can also access a mobile application. Preventive health care is also provided through community women who receive training at clinics and engage in door-to-door outreach. One of Saeed’s particular goals is to lower maternal and child mortality.
Sehat Kahani currently has 26 e-clinics across Pakistan, which have served 120,000 patients since 2017.This provider network brings together 1,500 female doctors, and more than 108 nurses, female health workers and coordinators. Recently the network has grown to include Pakistani female doctors living in the US and New Zealand, making the service available round the clock in Pakistan. The mobile application currently now has a user base of 10,000+ plus corporate employees and consumers to provide primary health care whenever needed.
Saeed’s plan is to expand the network to 100 e-clinics and nationwide usage of the mobile application, delivering affordable healthcare to as many as 10 million people by 2023. She aims to help lower the incidence of birth-related deaths by 30 per cent and of communicable and non- communicable diseases by 40 per cent.
The result is a model that not only saves lives and delivers affordable care, but also empowers skilled women to reach their full potential.
“When you walk into a community where there isn’t a doctor available for 20 or 30 kilometres and people have to spend half a month’s income to visit one and get basic care, when you enable a nurse with technology so that she can connect a patient to an online doctor who is sitting in places like Australia, Canada or somewhere else in Pakistan – that’s the magic. That’s the beautiful moment that keeps us going every day,” she says.
doctors in Pakistan
returning to the workforce after marriage