The AKDN Digital Health Programme in South-Central Asia

Diyor Qurbonov*, an employee of Pamir Energy Company fell off a pole while repairing electricity cables. He suffered a head injury and was rushed in an emergency to the Khorog Oblast General Hospital (KOGH). Since neurosurgeons were not available at KOGH, his family insisted on sending him to National Medical Center (NMC), Dushanbe for treatment. This, however, was not possible as Diyor was not in a transportable state due to the trauma in his head. Since KOGH avails teleconsultation services from NMC through the AKDN Digital Health Programme, a live teleconsultation session was arranged with Dr Sherzamon at NMC. During the consultation, a CT scan to identify the size of hematoma was recommended. After assessment of the findings, which revealed a small-sized blood clot, Dr Sherzamon recommended medications instead of a surgery. He did not assess a need for an operation due to the clot’s small size. Over a period of two weeks, Diyor took medication and was able to recover successfully without an operation. Digital health services allowed Diyor to receive the treatment he needed, while saving time and cost and avoiding unnecessary travel. Diyor was also able to avoid unnecessary medical complications that would have resulted had his treatment been delayed.

High quality CT scan images were shared instantaneously through the VirtualDoc telehealth software and doctors were able to discuss case details in real-time. Prior to the availability of teleradiology services at KOGH, patients would have an attendee personally take images with them to NMC; locate the physician for second opinion and diagnosis; and bring the image and reports back to KOGH. The process took a minimum of 3-4 days. Through the AKDN Digital Health Programme in Tajikistan, Diyor was able to access a qualified, professional neurosurgeon and receive a timely diagnosis and treatment. Patients like Diyor benefit from digital health services everyday through the AKDN Digital Health Programme.

The Aga Khan Development Network Digital Health Programme initiated in South-Central Asia in 2007, when the French Medical Institute for Children in Kabul, Afghanistan was connected to the Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi in Pakistan for teleradiology services. Since then, the system has expanded into a network of 37 sites across four countries in South-Central Asia.

The AKDN Digital Health Programme leverages Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to link health care institutions and health care providers within and across Afghanistan, Kyrgyz Republic, Pakistan and Tajikistan. The Programme uses digital health to aid the provision of high-quality, low cost, equitable health care to marginalized populations living in remote, rural areas. It aims to provide comprehensive and coordinated care to communities and minimizes the barriers of distance and time, creating a robust and integrated health care system.

Through the Programme, live and store-and-forward teleconsultations and eLearning services connect multiple AKDN and government facilities, through Public Private Partnerships (PPP). Diagnostic services include teleradiology, telepathology and teleopthalmology while teleconsultations cover various specialties, including obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatric neurology and psychiatry, among others. Health care providers also benefit under the Programme through eLearning. eLearning services aim to build clinical and management capacities of health care providers, enhance their ability to deliver care and manage services and reduce professional isolation. In remote areas, where resources are limited, eLearning can aid continuing professional development when health care professionals are unable to undertake time-consuming and costly travel to attend courses.

The AKDN Digital Health Programme supports the operations of health care facilities that are owned by AKDN, owned by the government but managed by AKDN, or owned and managed by the government in Asia. In 2014, the AKDN eHealth Programme was recognized for its contribution to eHealth when it won the Manthan Award in eHealth. The award recognises the best use of ICT and digital tools to create holistic and comprehensive impact on people in South Asia and Asia Pacific.

*The name of the patient has been changed to protect patient privacy.