Bright prospect of thriving e-healthcare

The Daily Star
Bangladesh could make a big breakthrough in the healthcare system using information and communications technology if the government showed the necessary political will and provided proper policy support, said experts yesterday.Some ICT based private and non-government initiatives in health management have already been introduced in the country and have seen remarkable success, while two key government agencies -- the Directorate of Health and the Department of Family Planning -- are implementing two relevant pilot projects.

The opinion and information came from speakers in the plenary session of The Daily Star Leadership Colloquium 2012 on "ICT in Healthcare: Ensuring Efficiency and Accountability". The two-day event started yesterday in The Daily Star Centre in the capital.

The speakers said use of ICT in healthcare gives an opportunity to health workers to intervene in communities by going beyond the traditional caring for the sick approach, and ensures wellbeing of all by focusing on nutrition and primary healthcare.

The. traditional approach of seeking healthcare services after getting sick has failed even in developed countries like the US where only affluent people can afford healthcare facilities.

But use of ICT like cellphones gives an opportunity to intervene in communities before people get sick, through preaching behavioural changes such as adopting healthy practices like taking nutritious food and clean water.

Health workers or junior medical professionals of remote areas could link up with doctors and give them patient information for advice through cellphones. This approach ultimately would lead to wellbeing of people of all levels in a community, they added.

David K Aylward, an Ashoka fellow and a senior adviser to Global Health and Technology, presented the keynote speech while Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star, delivered the welcome speech.

Health related experts from home and abroad spoke at the plenary session that turned into a platform for introducing global health technologies to an audience of 300 people.

We suggest you read  The South African mHealth Market

David Aylward said Bangladesh is no exception in facing common global health concerns like maternal and neonatal death, poor nutrition, and chronic illness -- where 35 percent deaths of mothers and children is caused by malnutrition.

All these problems reduce the gross domestic product (GDP) by around two percent which could be easily avoided by changing the healthcare approach, he added.

In Bangladesh, where information technology is already booming, community health worker could collect, monitor and analyse patient's data. So if somebody got sick, the health worker could contact the junior consultant immediately, and could send the patient to a hospital if necessary, he pointed out.

David said ICT intervention starts with people, especially with mothers and children, who could be advised before they became sick. They could be told to use clean water or how to improve nutrition of food, which would give a baby not only a mere chance to survive but to live with full physical and mental potential.

It would be possible if the right information and technology could be provided to the right place and right people in the right form, he said.

"Bangladesh can leapfrog the painful experiences that the western countries learned through ages, by just taking the successful practices by using ICT as a multiplier force," he said.

Mahfuz Anam said Bangladesh has many positive achievements gained over the years, at the same time many things are happening, many new technologies are coming to the global market which many Bangladeshi entrepreneurs and policymakers do not get a chance to explore.

Bangladesh could learn many lessons from the West and take their best while leaving out the worst as technologies provide that opportunity, he said.

Kimberly Rook of John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said the Directorate of Health and the Department of Family Planning -- two key agencies of the government -- have been implementing two pilot projects of intervention in communities through cellphones for healthcare services.

We suggest you read  Killing Pain: Xanax Tops Charts

Bangladesh could achieve great success in the use of ICT in healthcare since cellphones are the most widely used household technologies in both urban and rural areas, and since 80 to 90 percent of those people use cellphones in cases of health emergencies, she said.

Prof K Siddique-e-Rabbani, chairman of the Department of Biomedical Physics and Technology at Dhaka University, said at a technical session that his department is developing equipment under a government project for providing telemedicine across the country through internet.

Mridul Chowdhury, founder of mHealth, Bangladesh, described how intervention through cellphones can record more integrated and real time data about patients which the health promoters need to advise people. Such dissemination of health advices could reduce people's disease burden, he added.

Dr Kaosar Afsana of BRAC University described an experience of how 15,000 community health workers felt empowered and provided better services after getting cellphones.

Garry Merritt, a representative of Seattle Science Foundation described and showed from Seattle, through a video conference, the use of technologies in cardiac surgery.

While introducing the speakers, Sheikh Mahsinuddin, coordinator of the colloquium, said the event has been designed to provide an opportunity to introduce the knowledge and practices of global standard for development of Bangladesh.

Among the partners of The Daily Star's yearly leadership colloquium, Aziz Khan, chairman of the Summit Group, Nadia Samdan of the Golden Harvest, and Rashed Chowdhury of Citi Bank NA also spoke.

An exhibition about the use of ICT in health services has also been organised, which will be open for all today.