Telemedicine: The Future of Healthcare in Pakistan

Access to proper healthcare is a fundamental human right that is enshrined also in Sustainable Development Goal #3 of the United Nations, which states: “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”.

However, as we know, in reality even basic healthcare is not available to the vast majority of the world’s population due to economic barriers. As a result, societal growth and development are hindered. No doubt, economic struggle and prosperity are directly linked to the healthy functioning of societies.

The reality of poor healthcare became even more alarming early in the year 2020, with the start of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic that made social distancing and remote working more common. Thus, emphasizing the need for vast expansion and improvement in healthcare systems globally.

As human contact reduced, the role of telemedicine became more prominent and the need for its implementation on a larger scale also became visible within Pakistan.

Telemedicine, a term originally coined in 1970, which means “healing at a distance” is a significant practice in many prominent countries such as the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, Australia, America among others.

As the situation surrounding medical facilities was exacerbated due to a nationwide lockdown, many poor households were unable to get the required help. To strengthen the healthcare system following international standards, one organization that stepped up to fill the gap existing between the poor households and their need for quality healthcare was the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF).

For this purpose, PPAF initiated a project in collaboration with Akhuwat and with technical support of the University of Health Sciences, Lahore to provide healthcare services in the areas where access to health facilities is hard or mobility is restricted due to the prevalence of pandemic. The first of its kind telemedicine helpline centre started functioning in January this year.

The initiative is part of the PPAF COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund under which PPAF provided economic revival assistance to 65,000 poorest households in 20 districts of Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The telemedicine helpline is helping not just those from deprived background gain the required medical assistance, but is easily accessible to all who lack physical access to medical services. The services are available 24/7 on 03041111284  and

Under this project, PPAF has provided funds for doctors remuneration and  IT equipment support. A team of 110 specialists and trained family physicians, dentist, and allied health sciences professionals has been assembled for this initiative. These specialists assist not just those benefitting from the Covid-19 Emergency Response, but also extends more holistic patient care for everyone in the community.

The service is allowing all seeking medical advice to establish a direct link with doctors for matters of dentistry, mental health, and prenatal care, along with all information regarding the spreading pandemic.

Guidelines have been developed to collect the health profile of beneficiaries and their families and as of March 31, 2021, more than 12,000 calls were reported to have been made via this telemedicine service. Besides this, the helpline also gave two awareness sessions to remote communities through online sessions in Mitthi Sakhar and Run of Kuch Community Centres of PPAF.

Before this initiative, nearly 50% of the communities had no access to health facilities or qualified doctors. A post initiative quality check indicated that all the people were highly appreciative of its useful services and urged the continuation of the telemedical centre. Therefore, showing the importance of establishing a telemedicine centre as an effective solution and even a lifesaver on certain occasions.

Additionally, in an attempt to increase knowledge and awareness regarding the Covid virus among the masses, audio and visual public service messages, informative flyers, and animations regarding pivotal topics of hygiene, use of masks, among others, were developed for a nationwide awareness campaign launched in English, Urdu. and regional languages such as Balochi, Sindhi and Pashto.

It is the need of the hour to scale up efforts to build a nationwide movement to provide accessible and inclusive health provisions. As the pandemic continues to make waves across Pakistan, it is even more imperative to try and ensure that we build a fairer and healthier world for everyone. In this regard, PPAF’s initiatives are a reflection of its efforts and commitment towards a Pakistani society that has promoted equality of lifestyles for everyone.