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Combining health and technology – a pandemic plus



KARACHI:

On April 7, 2021, people across the globe observed World Health Day in the backdrop of persistently rising Covid-19 infections and deaths. The pandemic, which brought the world to a standstill, claimed millions of lives, confined many others to isolation and badly damaged the global economy, continues to trouble the world to date.

Joblessness, growing domestic violence, deaths, healthcare failures, and overburdened hospitals…the downsides to the pandemic are countless. However, though few, there have been plusses, most notable of them being technological interventions in the health sector. Covid-19 paved the way for rapid technology adoption to cope with the crisis.

Technological interventions Pakistan, like many other developing economies, is also seeing increasing role of technology in the health sector, a prime example of which is the State Bank of Pakistan’s (SBP) Refinance Facility for Combating Covid-19 (RFCC).

Among other objectives, the facility is also aimed at enhancing the capacity of the health sector, particularly to deal with health emergencies. This facility can be availed through banks and development finance institutions and by all hospitals and healthcare facilities, not just to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, but also to enhance their overall capacities.

According to the SBP, Rs14.3b has been requested under the RFCC over the last 10 months and issuance of Rs10b has been approved. Besides, Indus Hospital has deployed the Oracle Fusion Cloud Based Enterprise Resource Planning Solution to overhaul the entire patient management and supply chain cycle.

Similarly, Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad, by introducing ‘eShifa Home Health Service’, has also deployed cloud infrastructure to enhance patients’ healthcare experience. The cloud-based solution enables the facility to reduce patient waiting time and risk of infection and eases the burden on the hospital.

Read: Covid-19 in children rattles healthcare

Another telemedicine startup, Educast’s eDoctors helps and assists Covid-19 patients during their home isolation. This initiative has linked around 800 doctors with Covid-19 patients across Sindh and claims to have treated 175,000 patients thus far.

Other technological interventions in Pakistan’s health sector following the Covid-19 outbreak include the establishment of an online Covid-19 platform by the government, the establishment of the National Command and Operation Centre as a nerve center to synergise the unified national effort against the pandemic, use of social and electronic media to disseminate awareness messages pertaining to pandemic-related standard operating procedures, launch of a resource management system and the Pak Neghayban app, among others.

Increased investment

According to the H1 report for 2020 by Magnitt, a Dubai-based data platform, “Pakistani startups have raised $18 million in the first six months of 2020.” The report, titled ‘Pakistan Venture Investment 2020 Snapshot’, states that healthcare and ecommerce startups received most funds in the country during the first half of 2020, primary due to the increased demand for ecommerce and healthcare services following the coronavirus outbreak in the country in late February last year. When compared with the total investment during the same period in 2019 in the two sectors, Pakistan Venture Investment 2020 Snapshot shows an increase of a massive 63 per cent in 2020.

Read more: Sindh’s first public health lab set up at DUHS

Growing trend

Commenting on the significance and increasing trend of technology adoption in Pakistan’s healthcare sector, Guruprasad Gaonkar, the cloud ERP and digital supply chain global go-to market leader at Oracle Corporation said, “2021 will be seen as the year when we moved from discussing the future of healthcare to making real investments… There are many areas where we have seen that technology is already shaping the healthcare of the future, accelerated by the urgent need to address the Covid pandemic.”

He said “Hospitals are now rethinking their plans and processes as normal outpatient care is provided remotely using telehealth solutions. The biggest change we now see is that healthcare has moved from a cure-based to care-based mechanism.

Moreover, for an effective healthcare solution for patients, organisations have realised the need for operational excellence and the need for multidisciplinary cooperation between doctors, nursing staff and back-office departments such as finance, procurement, and human capital.”

“This is where technology is helping healthcare professionals to be able to deliver more holistic health care services to patients” Guruprasad added.

Moreover, SAP- a German multinational software corporation- country manager in Pakistan Saquib Ahmed said “Technology adoption in Pakistan is in line with global trends today.” He added that 18 of the world’s 20 major vaccine producers were already running their production on SAP solutions that covered the end-to-end process from manufacturing to controlled distribution to administration and post-vaccine monitoring.



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