July 10, 2020

News |

Telehealth initiative answers ‘the need of the hour’ in Pakistan

With physical access to health facilities in Pakistan severely limited by the country’s rapidly growing number of COVID-19 cases, providing women and girls an alternative way to get reproductive health counseling and information “is the need of the hour,” says Ghulam Shabbir Awan, director of Ipas Pakistan.

A new telehealth initiative is helping meet that need. The project is a joint effort by Ipas Pakistan, provincial departments of health and  Sehat Kahani Pakistan, a non-governmental organization working to improve low-income people’s access to quality health care. To date, 22 private- and public-sector health professionals have received three days of online training that has equipped them to provide telehealth consultations with women and girls in need of medical abortion, abortion self-care or postabortion contraception.

“These providers can now offer consultations at any time of the day, whether it’s by phone, the internet or smartphone apps,” says Awan. “This will particularly help women and girls who cannot reach health facilities because of the difficult situation with COVID-19. The providers can counsel and help women manage their own abortions outside health facilities with medical abortion drugs. They can also offer counseling and advice on family planning services and refer any woman who needs postabortion care to a nearby health facility.”

The training also covered updated guidance from WHO on COVID-19, which includes specific guidance on safe abortion and postabortion care and encourages the use of telehealth so that physical visits to health facilities are minimized.

In addition, Ipas-trained lady health workers (LHWs) are reaching out to women and girls to make them aware that telehealth consultations are available and free of charge during the COVID-19 crisis. Seventy-eight lady health workers have been trained on how to access the telehealth services and they, in turn, are helping women and girls access the services by smartphones.

Awan says he hopes that the online trainings for health providers can be expanded because “holding trainings the traditional way, in person, is not possible during the pandemic.” Based on responses from the first group of providers, the online trainings were valuable. As one provider said, “This will contribute to the improvement of reproductive health services” for women and girls in Pakistan.

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