The intersection between technology and medicine is perhaps one of the most important junctions of our time, and, in a world where access is king, many people—in fact, entire countries—can be left behind in the dust. That’s where Makkiya Jawed comes in as the director of social enterprise for Sehat Kahani in Pakistan.
The tech wiz joined forces with two doctors who launched the health tech enterprise, which circumvents Pakistan’s tradition of women having to choose family or career. It also caters to populations often overlooked by established medical communities.
“Sehat Kahani is a tele-health platform that aims to democratize healthcare via nurse-assisted video consultations by ensuring quick access, prevention and efficiency for healthcare,” Jawed explained.
Dr. Sara Saeed Khurram and Dr. Iffat Zafar, the co-founders of Sehat Kahani, both encountered the socio-cultural barriers to healthcare, but instead of giving up, they used their medical background to “democratize healthcare by building an all-female health provider network to deliver quality healthcare,” Jawed said. “They are the people who have taught me the power of team work and the importance of patience and dedication…In all honesty, whatever I have learned, they have had a major role to play in it. And the best thing is, they are females – females who have stood against all odds, fought against all barriers and proven time and again, that when one is committed, losing doesn’t remain an option.”
Specifically, Jawed tackles the IT challenges the system faces on a daily basis, including lack of operation areas and Internet providers, low bandwidth and high Internet illiteracy rates in the villages. She’s working to expand the network to include the rural populations. And she’s working to get more women into the technology field, despite social and cultural barriers.
“I love being on the field, empowering women to use technology, interacting with the underprivileged and helping them realize that technology can save their lives,” Jawed said. “My biggest achievement is not an award that I receive, rather it is when I hear the clinical staff tell me that they can now teach their children how to use technology, having never used even a smart phone, let alone a tablet before. Or when a patient walks up to me and tells me that I am a sweet soul simply for helping them connect to a doctor, something that is their basic right.”
Pakistan, which contains a population of 182 million people and one of the fastest growing economies of the world, is struggling to provide basic healthcare to more than half of its population. More than 40 million people live below the poverty line and nearly 30 percent of the total population lack access to even the most basic healthcare facilities.
As such, the mission of Sehat Kahani is four-fold. It works to use technology to surpass those socio-cultural and economic barriers discouraging women health providers from participating in the workforce, while at the same time creating sustainable e-health models at a third of the cost of traditional clinics, giving access to those with low incomes. In addition, the organization educates marginalized communities in preventative healthcare, an important step to low-cost health maintenance. Finally, the virtual doctors, specialists and mental health experts provide care to those who cannot physically get to a clinic. The model currently comprises a network of 14 e-healthcare hubs across Pakistan. In the past three years, the team of three has been able to reach more than 600,000 people directly.
So, how did Jawed get involved, and at such a young age, to boot? Coming from a life of privilege, early on, she saw the vast inequality around her and wanted to make a difference.
“Growing up, I underwent an existential crisis. It was difficult for me to understand why I was so privileged and had no qualms about wasting money whereas people didn’t have enough to be treated and lost their lives to preventable diseases,” she said.
Jawed is now on the forefront of tele-medicine in a tangible way. According to the World Health Organization, digital health is helping more than 400 million people globally who wouldn’t otherwise have access to essential care. The market is expected to grow by more than $12 billion by 2022.
This global problem can be attacked locally, Jawed said.
“When a patient walks into one of the clinics established in an urban slum community, a nurse who belongs to the community and plays the role of an intermediary assesses her vitals and connects her to an online doctor via a highly customized health platform that is being used in all Sehat Kahani clinics,” she explained.
Being a one-stop solution, patients can also access specialists, hospital referrals and basic dispensary items, at minimal cost, without having to travel for long hours outside their village.
“Sehat Kahani, for me, is a forum, which has not only provided me with a platform to raise my voice against gender discrimination but has also enabled and empowered me to cater to the most basic human desire; being a healthy human being.”