Foundation Projects

Capacity Building of Lady Health Workers in Rural Mardan, NWFP through the use of ICT based Tele-healthcare

The School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the National University of Science and Technology NUST

Despite the steady improvement in the Pakistani health sector over the years, the condition of healthcare in Pakistan is not yet satisfactory. One of the reasons for this lag is the fact that the health sector in Pakistan suffers from inadequate funds that fail to even fulfill the basic needs of the public.

This situation is in part due to the rapid population growth and the limited financial resources allocated to the health sector. The conditions are worse in rural areas where people have difficulty accessing the most basic health facilities.

This is mainly due to a shortage of doctors and a lack of resources. The number of doctors registered in Pakistan at present is about 122,248. It is estimated that about 25,000 of these doctors are working abroad, thus leaving 85,000 for a population of about 160 million; this leaves a very low ratio of one doctor for every 2000 patients. The doctor to patient ratio recommended for developing countries like Pakistan by the World Health Organization (WHO) is 1 doctor for 1,000 people. At this ratio the requirement of doctors in Pakistan is nearly double the available doctors currently available.

Furthermore, Pakistan has one of the highest infant (86.8/1000) and maternal mortality (170.8/1000) rates in the world, which is further exacerbated in rural areas (76/1000 infant and 201/1000 maternal mortality rates). The WHO estimates that 70% of Pakistanis never get to see a doctor in their entire life and instead rely on Lady Health Workers (LHW) for their medical needs.

These LHWs are government-trained healthcare workers who operate out of their homes in rural areas of Pakistan providing primary and maternal care. There are over 100,000 such healthcare workers in Pakistan, each responsible for a community of about 1,000 in their neighborhood. These LHWs are expected to treat all sorts of diseases and illness, which are far beyond their training. At times, they need an opinion of a specialist for better diagnoses. Unfortunately for most of the developing world, including Pakistan, these specialists are simply out of reach. Once trained, LHWs are sent to communities to work; they usually operate in complete isolation with little or no support from any medical community or a doctor. This makes their task of providing community healthcare cumbersome.

Our project aims to utilize a mobile platform to extend tele-healthcare services in rural Mardan. This will include voice, Short Text Messaging (SMS), Multimedia Messaging (MMS), GPRS/Edge, and VSAT to quickly and efficiently extend the reach of medical advice to LHWs in the field by connecting them to our network of specialists. This will enable LHWs to provide better quality healthcare to the communities they serve. This technology will also enable LHWs to download short audio and video files to keep them abreast with latest developments in the medical field. These multimedia files will act as quick training sessions for LHWs in the field as well.