COMSATS Telehealth: Revolutionizing Healthcare in Rural Pakistan Via ICT
CIS executed a Telehealth project in 2001 with a novel concept of delivering basic health consultations using virtualization and the effective use of ICT.
In Pakistan, the Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (COMSATS), has made significant achievements over the years in numerous fields, such as Information Technology, Education, Energy, Environment, and Health. Through its flagship projects; COMSATS Internet Services (CIS) and COMSATS Telehealth (CTH), the institutional platform has been rendering services as a pioneer of Internet Service Provider (ISP) as well as a pioneer of Telemedicine in Pakistan, respectively.
Access to affordable and high-quality healthcare is one of the most pressing global demands today. As a matter of fact, more than half of the world’s population lives in rural areas, where the vast majority of such places lack access to even the most fundamental services and facilities, such as medical care and educational opportunities.
It is also very challenging for the states, particularly the developing nations, to open and run healthcare facilities in any community utilizing standard healthcare models with only limited resources available.
However, the economic growth and development of countries where Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has been successfully implemented bring clear differences.
In 1996, when the internet was still a fairly new technology, COMSATS initiated its internet services division, COMSATS Internet Services (CIS), and set up a network of 19 offices all over Pakistan to better assist both private and government institutions, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and to improve marginalized communication as well.
Further, CIS executed a Telehealth project in 2001 with a novel concept of delivering basic health consultations using virtualization and the effective use of ICT.
This first-ever telemedicine project, COMSATS Telehealth (CTH), is serving as the platform for social services, distributing socio-economic advantages and free specialist consultations to the rural and inaccessible areas of Pakistan’s marginalized communities, using a vast Network of Telehealth clinics.
Despite the fact that the quality and affordability of healthcare are the primary issues in Pakistan, telehealth has still become a new hope for removing bottlenecks.
CTH has established 13 rural Tele-Health clinics where female doctors are not available to provide basic health care. The paramedic connects to the female medical specialist via video conferencing and assists her in obtaining an interactive history followed by a thorough examination using digital diagnostic and AMD-approved equipment.
The CIS Network of Telehealth clinics is working successfully in Basic Health Units (BHUs) in different cities of Pakistan, including Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Multan, Swabi, Quetta, Musakhail, Khairpur, and Gwadar.
CTH has treated over 55,000 patients, including 26,851 Ultra Sonography (Tele USG) patients, and helped about 70,000 people in 17 rural areas of Pakistan in fields like ultrasounds, gynecology, antenatal care, dermatology, and outpatient care.
The number of patients seeking primary care at CTH Tele-clinics is growing, with most cases involving women’s health, especially perinatal checkups and gynecological concerns. To facilitate the diagnostic process for medical professionals, CTH has introduced Tele-ultrasound, a significant component of the service.
Besides teleconsultations, CTH is building capacity among medical professionals, medical professionals working in rural regions, and other stakeholders involved in digital health, with a particular focus on telehealth.
The eHealth team at COMSATS has developed a web portal that can store and transfer patient data, which is the first of its kind to be made available in Pakistan.
CIS is also collaborating with Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments on Telehealth services. The government of Pakistan, the Yaran-e-Watan Initiative, the IT Board of the KPK Government, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada, the eHealth Association of Pakistan (eHAP), the Human Development Foundation (HDF), Baltistan Health and Education Foundation (BHEF), the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), and People’s Primary Health Initiative (PPHI) are forming major partnerships for Digital Health activities.
Moreover, CIS is providing internet services to the local population in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, especially in Skardu, for the operationalization of clinical and educational services. It has also introduced the practice of teledermatology and installed the first-ever Internet service provider. Tele-dermatology accounts for nearly 80% of Tele-Consultations delivered in Skardu.
CTH has allowed the replication of the model in KPK, and three Telehealth clinics were established, greatly contributing to the provision of health services in the province. Additionally, CIS is collaborating with AJK IT Board for the establishment of numerous telehealth clinics in the region. The novel idea of launching mobile Telehealth is also being taken into consideration for the future.
Ambassador Dr. Mohammad Nafees Zakaria is a true visionary, whose appointment as the Executive Director of COMSATS has been a godsend for the expansion of telehealth in Pakistan.
With his impressive track record in diplomacy, having served as Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and Malaysia, Dr. Nafees Zakaria brings a wealth of experience and expertise to his new role. His remarkable leadership skills and unwavering commitment to advancing telehealth in the country are second to none.
Dr. Nafees Zakaria’s dedication to modernizing and expanding Telehealth Programs for numerous Digital Health Projects across Pakistan is unparalleled.
He understands the importance of remote health monitoring, online consultations, and diagnosis in ensuring universal access to healthcare for all citizens of Pakistan.
With his guidance, CIS is set to increase its capacity to provide these essential services while prioritizing the privacy, confidentiality, openness, and security of data.
What’s more, Dr. Nafees Zakaria has also suggested expanding Telehealth Programs to the COMSATS member states, which are 27 countries in the global south.
This move is set to improve the delivery of healthcare services and promote universal access to quality healthcare in these countries. Dr. Nafees Zakaria’s forward-thinking approach and tireless efforts are sure to bring about transformative change in the healthcare sector not only in Pakistan but also in the wider global south.