COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) as cases continue rising across the globe. UNDP will support countries to set up a multisectoral whole-of-society approach to face the challenges beyond the health sector, to limit the spread of COVID-19 and to mitigate the potentially devastating impact it may have on vulnerable populations and economies.
Within this scope, there are existing private sector companies that are playing key roles in supporting national responses with their services and products, including several members of UNDP’s Business Call to Action (BCtA).
Virtual health app
Pakistan-based Sehat Kahani is a telehealth platform providing low-income communities with primary healthcare. Their ICT-enabled health centres, called e-hubs, are equipped to connect home-based doctors via telemedicine software to patients. Along with this, they also have a mobile app connecting individuals to primary healthcare physicians.
Through their smartphone app, Sehat Kahani will be providing free virtual consultations for the next three months to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak in Pakistan. The company can virtually triage patients and send them to the correct healthcare facilities if need be, without burdening the healthcare system with non-virus cases while also reducing unnecessary exposure.
“If you look at the numbers, Pakistan has 180,000 beds for a population of over 200 million, so limiting social gathering and social isolation becomes important for us because we don’t have the resources to cope,” says the co-founder of Sehat Kahani, Dr Iffat Zafar.
In such instances, telemedicine plays an important role. “If we look at trends around the world, we are headed towards a peak, the next few weeks will be the most critical and dangerous; over these next few weeks telemedicine will be key.”
Sehat Kahani’s health app has already seen an increase in use. “We are getting a lot of traffic because many people want to avoid going to a healthcare facility,” adds Zafar.
She explains the benefits of having an existing model in place has allowed them to respond quickly. “In such times no one can go out and build technology from scratch, we already have an app that was built by the leading tech-health company 10Pearls, and has been tested with more than 100,000 patients.”
Aside from the app, the company has put a coronavirus protocol in place so all virtual doctors are equipped with questionnaires based on the national policy for coronavirus prevention that helps triage patients.
Sehat Kahani also put their e-hub clinics on standby while they gathered protective equipment for staff and from next week onwards will continue their work of providing healthcare access to low-income communities. To ensure measures for social distancing the head office team will also be working from home, adds Zafar.
She says they were able to respond to the coronavirus pandemic quickly because they already have working models in place. “We have the experience [in telehealth], we have a network of 1,500 doctors who are constantly trained, and we knew who to get on board quickly.” In the current COVID-19 crisis, telemedicine seems like the answer to becoming a healthcare enabler, adds Zafar.
Access to critical information
In promoting and responding to COVID-19, BCtA continues to support companies to face the challenges beyond the health sector, to both limit the spread of COVID-19 and to mitigate the potentially devastating impact it may have on vulnerable populations and economies.
In Ghana, BCtA member and global internet service provider BLUETOWN has provided free data-access to all users to view informational COVID-19 videos from the WHO.
The company’s inclusive business model is built around bridging digital divides, improving access to digital content and services, and reducing poverty and inequality.
“We believe it is vital that verified and timely information is available to everyone regardless of purchasing power. Therefore, we will continue to use our local cloud platform to share relevant and verified information throughout the duration of this pandemic,” announced BLUETOWN.
The company offers affordable data packages to low-income clients that grant access to the internet through wi-fi hotspots. To overcome the barrier of unstable connections and low purchasing power in rural locations, BLUETOWN offers a local cloud solution that provides continuous access to digital content and services. This same cloud platform will allow BLUETOWN users in Ghana to access health information on the coronavirus pandemic as well as the Ghanaian president’s address to the nation regarding the outbreak.
Artificial intelligence-based triage
For the social enterprise Sevamob, which works in India and the U.S., a combination of a telehealth marketplace, AI-based triage and on-site pop-up and mobile clinics lead to accurate diagnosis and treatment for low-income and rural communities who have limited or no access to healthcare.
Sevamob’s patient data management system allows for uploading and saving patient reports on a central cloud server leading to better diagnosis for health teams, particularly in follow-ups when initial reports can be compared immediately with newer information. Cloud-based reports also show health statistics for certain demographics, thus aiding in diagnosis.
The company’s patient data management system stands ready to serve the population during the COVID-19 crisis, says Shelley Saxena, CEO and founder of Sevamob, adding that the system can also work offline – an added benefit, particularly in rural areas where health teams may experience connectivity issues. The system can also be customized without needing further programming.
“In a COVID-19-like situation if you want to identify patients who may cause community-to-community transmissions, literally in minutes you can set up additional forms and questionnaires within the system that become a part of the patient’s record,” he says, “such as where they may have travelled, if they are exhibiting any symptoms and so on.” These reports are updated live and can easily be shared with the relevant stakeholders.
Sevamob's mobile and pop-up clinics can be set up quickly, less than 15 minutes, says Saxena, and "as it is not a permanent structure it is more cost-effective."
For bottom of the pyramid communities who would not otherwise have access to healthcare, Sevamob is continuing its work. “In India, we are continuing to provide our primary care services in underserved rural areas, in a majority of these areas there are no other healthcare providers,” he says.