KARACHI: As more than 100,000 patients of the novel coronavirus recovered and returned to normal life in Sindh, the provincial government’s initiative to monitor and treat over 90,000 infected persons at their homes across the province through technological-support and modern eDoctor project has emerged as a success story.

It has not only inspired the other provinces to follow suit, but also won applause and funding from the international financial institution Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), officials and experts said.

More than 450 Pakistani women doctors in over 15 countries and different cities of the country joined hands with the provincial government in March 2020 when the province started registering Covid-19, conducting round-the-clock monitoring and assisting patients in Sindh, who were in home isolation, through technology-driven and IT-enabled facilities.

After more than four months, the project called ‘Covid-19 Isolation Monitoring, Reporting & Response Cell under the Chief Minister Sindh Telehealth Initiative’, proved a huge success with Sindh leading the country with the highest number of recovered patients.

Sindh leads provinces with highest number of recovered Covid-19 patients

“Supply-demand mismatch was the actual stimulus for home quarantine. We had limited inpatient capacity but our patient population was high. The home quarantine is the safest option for mild to moderate coronavirus cases,” said Dr Abdul Bari Khan, CEO, Indus Hospital, and focal person of the Sindh government on Covid-19 initiative, when asked about the reason which pushed the authorities to launch the home-isolation monitoring project.

He said that e-health was the future and his Indus Hospital had a pioneering role as the system of medical recording at the facility was all electronic. Moreover, he added, because of the edge in health networking his organisation could organise this strategy across Pakistan.

The officials said the women doctors were brought back to the provincial health system through a technology-driven initiative as private-public partnership initiative by one of the oldest public sector medical universities in the country. It has so far brought back to the profession over 800 Pakistani lady doctors in more than 27 different countries, a number of whom have resumed professional practice within the past two years after they had quit the profession due to family or social issues.

“Educast & the Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) some two years ago initiated the eDoctor project for around 25,000 female doctors who had completed their medical education but are no longer associated with the profession so that they could once again become part of the country’s medical workforce,” said an official.

“The project has successfully brought back hundreds of doctors into the health system. The concept was designed to use the innovative technological tools in reconnecting these out-of-work lady doctors on a single platform, provide them virtual-based teaching of new and updated medial education in the form of a reach programme covering all aspects required to be a general physician. Right now the eDoctor project has hundreds of doctors who are working from home in Pakistan and in different parts of the world offering their services to contribute to the health system.”

The success of the project inspired the Sindh administration, which found it the best possible choice to engage these doctors for monitoring thousands of Covid-19 patients who are not in touch with any physicians and require regular consultancy despite mild or no symptoms for better recovery, precautions and diet plan during their isolation.

“The Sindh chief minister led the initiative and immediately drew a plan to connect some 1,000 patients identified till March 2020, in home isolation across the province with the doctors through IT-enabled services, IP-based outbound call centre and other technology-driven facilities,” said the official.

“The initiative has proved a success. It made further improvement with the passage of time, as the number of home-isolation Covid-19 positive patients grew till 40,000 and by mid-July got down to 7,500. Sindh became the first province to launch this initiative. This pandemic is not going away anytime soon. So every province and region would have to replicate this model for thousands of patients in home isolation.”

The officials said Educast — the technology partner of the eDoctor project — was targeting thousands of Pakistani lady doctors who after completing their medical education were raising their children and looking after their families and were not contributing to society through their skills and expertise.

“In a few months, hundreds of such lady doctors have been brought back to their profession through the use of latest EdTech platform, using Flip Model teaching and interactive digital trainings over newer healthcare models and updated medical practices taught by top medical faculty from DUHS,” said Prof Dr Jehan Ara Hassan, of DUHS, who’s also the academic head of the eDoctor project.

Through eDoctor, hundreds of out-of-work lady doctors from Pakistani cities and rural areas as well as foreign countries, including Bahrain, Greece, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States and Indonesia, were motivated to once again join their profession.

In its partnership with the Sindh government, she said the eDoctors team from 15 countries and from different cities of Pakistan had been assigned a very crucial job, which remained ignored in other provinces.

The success of the project in bringing back out-of-work lady doctors into the profession and reconnecting them through the technology platform to save deaths of pregnant women and newborn children had also won international recognition and it inspired the Islamic Development Bank to offer its support.

Dr Hayat Sindi, the senior adviser to the president of IsDB on STI, commended the project’s achievements.

“We’re thrilled to see that Educast is contributing to Pakistan’s healthcare system and serving one of the most vulnerable groups facing different health risks, as well as dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic through its out-of-work Pakistani lady doctors,” she said.

“The e-Doctor project was selected to benefit from IsDB’s $500 million Transform Fund in 2019. IsDB 2019 Call for Innovation received 1,417 submissions from 91 countries. The robust selection process managed by renowned scientists who form the Transform Fund’s ‘Scientific Advisory Board’ adopts a strict criteria to ensure all selected projects provide innovative solutions which use the power of science, technology and innovation to solve major global challenges, and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”.

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2020