Digitalization Is Transforming Healthcare in Bangladesh

 2018-10-12 21:26:49


An interesting observation I noted following travels to developing countries, including India and Bangladesh, were most families own a mobile phone regardless of financial status. I had the opportunity to visit families living in some of the poorest areas in Pune and Mumbai, India and in Sylhet, Bangladesh. With thin roof sheeting, bamboo or thin slabs of concrete making the basis of some houses, it was remarkable to still see a phone being charged in these tiny homes. Similarly, in Mumbai, I had the chance to see Dharavi, one of the largest slums in the world. Walking down the narrow paths of Dharavi, inside the cramped huts, again, I saw mobile phones and other technological devices.

Dharavi, one of the largest slums in the world. It’s home to nearly a million people.

 

This summer I was fortunate to join a voluntary global health program, Elective Aid 2018, with a London based charity, Selfless. Along with 31 other volunteers including, medical and non-medical students, and local doctors, we set up three health camps in remote villages in Bangladesh and collectively attended to over 3000 patients. We also visited hospitals, a disability and rehabilitation center and the office of Telenor Health in Bangladesh. The mission of Selfless is to create effective, innovative and sustainable solutions to global health issues [1]. I truly believe that innovation and entrepreneurship can solve even the most pressing challenges of our generation.

Selfless team visiting the Telenor Tonic office, Bangladesh.

 

To gain insight into the future of healthcare delivery in a developing country, we visited Telenor Health in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Telenor, a Norwegian multinational telecommunications company, has introduced the digital health service Tonic in Bangladesh. This service combines healthcare with technology to tackle local health challenges, thus taking a further step into the digital world. Telenor Health sees the opportunity for mobile telecommunications to play a significant role in addressing global health challenges. They harness technology as an enabler to deliver high quality integrated primary care [2]. According to Sajid Rahman, CEO of Telenor Health, Tonic’s aim, from a social aspect, is to improve the health care service in Bangladesh by the introduction of technology [3]. Technological advancements such as smart phone applications and video conferencing will make the health care services more accessible and effective.

With a large variety of patients calling in, doctors are allocated computers in the Telenor Tonic office ready to assist them. Patients describe their symptoms, respond to the doctors specific questions and some even send through a photo of their medical query so the doctors can take a further look. All this information helps the doctor decide the next steps in the management of the patient. Prescriptions and advice are sent directly to the patient through SMS. Dr. Khaled Hasan, clinical manager at Tonic, stated that doctors are available 24/7 and thus far Tonic has had 360,000+ consultations delivered over phone by the Tonic doctors.

Doctors setup in the Telenor Tonic office.

 

Another company pushing forward digital healthcare to the market, is UK based company Babylon Health. It provides subscription health services, allowing patients to have a virtual consultation with doctors and health care professionals through text and video messaging using Babylon’s mobile application [4]. Companies such as Telenor health and Babylon are changing the way people access healthcare. Cutting-edge technology can enable millions of people in developing and developed countries with the access to high quality healthcare.

Routine practice for pregnant women in Norway includes regular medical checks, assessing development of the unborn baby and health of the expectant mothers. This basic practice for some is deemed beyond a luxury to many women in developing countries. During our time in Sylhet, Bangladesh, we were invited into the homes of expectant mothers in underprivileged villages. We arrived with a small gift, containing: a mosquito net, towel, post-partum pads, folic acid and iron tablets, and chlorhexidine solution.

The gift bag contains items to make pregnancy safer for the mother and child.

 

The mothers were informed of a phone service available for the duration of their pregnancy. Utilizing technology and the knowledge that most families own a mobile phone regardless of financial status, the phone service aids contact to local doctors should the expectant mother have any concerns. In addition, this service allows the mother to receive regular calls on the development of her unborn baby, keeping the mother well informed. This helps and supports so many expectant mothers, especially women pregnant with their first child.

One of the expectant mothers we visited in Sylhet, Bangladesh.

According to a UN report on sanitation, India has more phones than toilets [5]. The world’s poorest families are more likely to have access to a mobile phone than a toilet. It is clear to see technology has reached everyone, from the expectant women in the villages of Bangladesh to the children running around the slums in Mumbai, everyone is connected!

 

Sources:

[1] Selfless. (2016). Society’s progress relies on individuals that will challenge the status quo. Available at: https://www.selfless.org.uk/

[2] Telenor. (2016). Tonic is the New Face of Digital Health Services for Telenor. Available at: https://www.telenor.com/tonic-is-the-new-face-of-digital-health-services-for-telenor/

[3] HiFi public. (2016, 19.juli). Tonic: Telenor Health's product for Bangladesh! [videoclip]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVtOoLwOipg&t=101s

[4] Babylon. (2018). Babylon health services. Available at: https://www.babylonhealth.com/product

[5] United Nations University. (2010). Greater Access to Cell Phones Than Toilets in India: UN. Available at: https://unu.edu/media-relations/releases/greater-access-to-cell-phones-than-toilets-in-india.html