cellphone user by Darnok via morguefileRecent mobile phone initiatives in Bangladesh are allowing patients to reach a health worker for advice at no cost 24 hours a day. They can receive prenatal care reminders and even send complaints about patient care.

Since 2009, the government has provided cell phones to 482 hospitals, which are used as round-the-clock hotlines staffed by health workers.

Close to 60 percent of the nationwide population – some 85 million people – use mobile phones and can benefit from the service, according to a 2011 report from the country’s telecommunications commission.

Currently there is one doctor for every 3,200 residents nationwide. While this proportion exceeds the World Health Organization recommended minimum to ensure basic health services, the picture is markedly different in rural areas.

“There are many hard-to-reach areas where it is difficult for the people to quickly rush to the hospitals. These people are getting health advice by the mobile phone health service,“ Abul Kalam Azad, a senior official at the Directorate General of Health Services, told IRIN.

The mobile phone hotlines can also reduce the number of patients turning to untrained or “fake” doctors who might prescribe fatal remedies.

Local leaders and newspapers have publicized the 24-hour hotline contact numbers nationwide and there are plans to launch TV and radio advertisements.

Pediatricians By Phone

Shakhawat Hossain, 30, an agricultural labourer from Kaliakair, a sub-district 40km north of the capital Dhaka, said health advice via phone can help when there are no other alternatives.

When Shakhawat’s three-year-old daughter recently had a 3am bout of diarrhoea, he was anxious, knowing how difficult it was to get to the closest hospital.

“My wife told me that she had heard that anyone can get help from the sub-district doctors by mobile phone. I phoned the doctor and he told me everything I should do,” he said.

The health worker on the other end of the line instructed him to feed her liquids and a homemade saline solution.

Within hours, his daughter’s condition improved.

Every year, a rural child has an average of 4.6 episodes of diarrhoea, from which about 230,000 children die annually, according to a 2003 government study.

Even though there is an effective treatment solution of salt and sugar, known as oral rehydration therapy, less than 30 percent of the patients who need it use it, and only 17 percent do so properly, according to the Dhaka-based International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh.

Ghana eye surgeryBoosting Maternal Health

Since 2010 public health workers have sent SMS text message reminders to pregnant women about periodic antenatal and postnatal care, as well as advice on safe delivery.

There are plans to create a phone number offering pre-recorded maternal health messages.

In addition, an SMS-based complaint and suggestion service for all government hospitals was launched in December 2011.

Citizens can now send an SMS about how their eye doctor is too often absent from the hospital, or how the facilities were not up to par.

(Originally published by IRIN, the UN Humanitarian News Service)


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