Use of mobile technology can improve healthcare in Merged Areas: UN Policy Seminar
The Merged Areas (MA) have the highest maternal and infant mortality rates the country, with 395 per 100,000 births and 86 per 1,000 live births respectively. Digital innovations in the health sector such as the use of mobile phones to send informative text messages for expectant and new parents can lead to improved maternal and infant mortality rate in the Merged Areas (MA), experts suggested in a webinar called “What Does It Take to Extend Quality Service Delivery to Remote Areas in a Low Resource Environment?” organized by Merged Areas Governance Project (MAGP) of the United Nations Development Program on Thursday.
The panelists included Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) General Health Services Director Dr. Niaz Muhammad, Advisor to the Government of Pakistan, Dr. GhaznaKhalid, and Dr. Zlatko Nikoloski, Assistant Professorial Research Fellow at London School of Economics (LSE) Department of Health Policy.
Government officials, researchers and development practitioners debated reasons behind the inequity in access to maternal healthcare services, and said that the use of information technology could play a significant role in improving the existing fractured referral system in the MA.
Referring to his research, Dr. Nikoloski said the use of mobile phones in improving maternal health could be divided into two major parts: focus on women andfocus on healthcare providers or community health workers. He stressed on the use of simple SMS service to educate women about safe motherhood practices, and connect healthcare workers to hospitals and other medical professionals, thereby giving timely diagnosesand services, and improving the referral system.
“This region is a perfect breeding ground to redesign healthcare service delivery with the use of digital innovation,” he said.
Dr. Ghazna said, “In my work experience, lack of human resources is the biggest challenge in this region. Buildings and equipment are there but unfortunately, there are very few skilled professionals.” However, she praised the KP government for its efforts inovercoming the unique challenges of this region. “Extending universal healthcare to its residents via the Sehat Insaaf Card has been a remarkable step,” she said.
In his remarks, Dr. Mohammad informed the panel about the steps the KP government has taken under its Accelerated Implementation Program (AIP) and the Annual Development Program (ADP), through which 481 nurses have been hired for secondary health service, and more lady health workers are being recruited. “More than 600 ultrasound machines have been set up to improve Maternal Newborn and Child Health (MNCH), and staff is being trained.Furthermore, we have relaxed contractual terms so we can recruit more medical specialists for the MA.”
“Additionally, Ehsaas Nashonuma Program – an initiative of Prime Minister Imran Khan – has also been extended to residents across province, including the MA,” he said, which is also contributing to improved maternal mortality rate in the region.
“However, the difficult mountainous terrain in the MAmakes it difficult to access mobile services,” he said. “We built an android app for our EPI staff but it failed to help them as they didn’t have mobile network.”
“Every place is not accessible,” he added. “The KP government has taken a lot of input from development professionals and researchers, and we are still taking it, but we are still far behind.”
“However, within our resources, we are leaving no stone unturned to bring the MA at par with central districts.”
Senior officials of government departments as well as academics from different universities were in attendance. Development practitioners from GiZ andPildat also participated in the event.