KARACHI   -   In partnership with the government, ChildLife Foundation has successfully provided 100,000 free telemedicine consultations to children in rural Pakistan through its telemedicine network. According to a statement issued by ChildLife Foundation, this telemedicine network was established in 2017 which now covers all 30 districts of Sindh and 33 districts of Balochistan through 60 telemedicine satellite centers (TSCs). ChildLife also manages 11 children’s Emergency Rooms (ERs) in government tertiary care hospitals across the country. Dr. Ahson Rabbani, CEO of ChildLife, explained: “At ChildLife ERs based in urban centers, we witnessed a significant influx of patients from rural regions, where there is a lack of senior doctors. Children were forced to travel long distances in extreme sickness. Delays in transport would often worsen their condition and their parents would take on huge debts just to meet the travel costs.” “Two-thirds of Pakistanis live in rural areas and our telemedicine network empowers us to help them. Through it, we can reach children where they are—in the district or tehsil hospital nearest to their homes—so they can get the right medical help at the right time, and with minimal costs.”

Adopting a technology-first approach, ChildLife launched its telemedicine hub-and-spoke model under which HD cameras and IP phones are installed in district headquarter hospitals (DHQs) and tehsil headquarter hospitals (THQs), turning them into Telemedicine Satellite Centers (TSCs). The TSCs have 24/7 access to experienced doctors based in Karachi’s Civil Hospital.

Dr. Rabbani said, “ChildLife’s telemedicine network is unique because it follows a physician-to-physician model of care, which mitigates the problems caused by lack of trained healthcare staff in rural areas. Our Karachi-based doctors assess patients brought to TSCs in real-time and discuss the latest medical protocols with the on-site government doctors. Such continuous knowledge-sharing strengthens the capacity of the on-ground healthcare staff, effectively training them to treat future patients appropriately and paving the way for sustained health benefits in their respective regions.”

Notably, ChildLife also deputes a trained nurse in each TSC to provide treatment to patients as per the teleconsultation of experienced doctors. In cases where further medical intervention is required, the patient is referred to the closest ChildLife ER in a government tertiary care hospital. The nurse uploads the relevant data in ChildLife’s HMIS app, alerting the ER to the incoming patient’s arrival so they are ready to treat them with priority.

A cutting-edge technological system has helped ChildLife overcome infrastructure and logistical barriers to reach sick children in remote areas successfully. As free care is delivered at their doorsteps, poor parents are saved from having to take impoverishing loans to ensure their child’s survival. The overall impact of ChildLife’s telemedicine model is improved and equitable access to quality healthcare for children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

ChildLife Foundation aims to scale up rapidly in the coming years and will expand its telemedicine network to cover all the districts of Punjab, KP, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Azad Kashmir by 2025. Since 2010, the organization has provided free-of-cost emergency treatment to 4 million children as per international healthcare standards.