State Department, IBM build telehealth bridge to rural Pakistan
A telemedicine project by the State Department, IBM, and other public and private organisations has enabled medical specialists to treat patients in remote, medically underserved areas of northern Pakistan, some of whom have suffered for years from easily treatable diseases.
Using wireless broadband technology, videoconferencing and the Internet, the Pakistan Telemedicine Project has connected a central coordinating facility at the Holy Family Hospital in Rawalpindi with a hospital in Attock District, a rural area with few doctors and limited medical resources.
Since late August, the program has been running virtual clinics in dermatology and ear, nose and throat specialities, performing radiology, and providing virtual grand rounds to educate local healthcare providers. Patients who haven't been seen by a physician in several decades showed up to register at these clinics said Dr. Richard Bakalar, chief medical officer at IBM. And the doctors and healthcare personnel are very excited that they're going to be able to treat patients they previously couldn't. Motorola and Wateen Telecom, based in Pakistan, are supplying the broadband technology. The U.S. Army's Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Centre will provide four medical consultants, including a cardiologist, ophthalmologist and trauma specialist.
The U.S. Agency for International Development is contributing USD 80,000 to cover the cost of two independent assessments of the project. And Medweb is providing telemedicine software, servers and medical input devices. The company worked with IBM on a similar project on Tristan da Cunha, the world's most remote inhabited island.
The goal was to develop a project that could showcase the transformative power of telecommunications technology. Pakistan was chosen as the initial site because the government has difficulty delivering healthcare to a broad swath of its population. More than 75 percent of the country's 173 million residents live in rural areas, but only 22 percent of its physicians practice in such areas.
Pakistan officials have been active partners in the effort, Saeed said, and the goal is to make the project self-sustaining in 18 months. In the meantime, the State Department will determine practical funding sources and expand coverage within Pakistan before replicating the program in other countries. The agency has already provided funding to IBM Pakistan to provide a second hospital in another remote region with telemedicine capabilities.
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