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Telemedicine services amid pandemic in Bangladesh

Telemedicine services amid pandemic in Bangladesh

Tanjil Chowddhury:The current world is devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID-19 during the second wave of the pandemic, Bangladesh is struggling to control the infection and death rate. Especially, since the first week of August (2021), the average infection rate in our country was around 27% where more than 200 people died every day.

Although the current infection and mortality rate is somewhat relaxed, we are not immune to the risks of the Delta variant. To address this pandemic, the government of Bangladesh (GoB) has already implemented various policies in the health sector, including strict lockdown, emergency health care services, and mass immunization programs.

Among these, the telemedicine initiative is playing a significant role in terms of providing emergency healthcare services and healthcare information to the general people. Particularly, to address emergency health issues of the general mass amid this global pandemic, telemedicine services are now providing through various electronic means including National Call Center 333-1, National Health Window-16263, IEDCR-10665, COVID-19 Tele-Health 09666777222; and Mother Tele-Health-09666888888, etc. that attained much appreciation from the civil society.

As well, since the primary stage of the pandemic, multiple websites including corona.gov.bd, 16263.dghs.gov.bd, iedcr.gov.bd, and www.dghs.gov.bd have been playing a praiseworthy role in terms of providing valuable healthcare information.Especially, ‘National Health Window-16263’ under the National Health Service has been highly appreciated in terms of providing emergency healthcare services to the general mass amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

National Health Window (NHW) is an emergency tele-healthcare service system operated by the MIS (Management Information System) Division of the Department of Health under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Basically, a mobile healthcare provider called ‘SYNESIS’ IT Limited manages all affairs of the National Health Window (NHW).

Anyone can take the primary healthcare services through direct consultation with a doctor by making a call to the helpline number (16263). This service is available 24 hours and 7 days a week. Essentially, National Health Window is committed to providing primary health services to the service seekers including government hospitals’ information, doctor’s information, ambulance information, or any emergency information about healthcare.

As well, this service sector helps the service seekers by providing essential information, if there is any complaint or advice regarding public or private health care issues. However, following the spread of Delta variants in Bangladesh, the infection and death rate has increased which is putting excessive pressure on the National Health Window Service.

Analysis of the recent statistics demonstrates that before the outbreak of the COVID-19, merely 0.71%, 0.74%, and 0.78% of the total population were showed interest to receive primary healthcare services from the National Health Window in the years 2017, 2018, and 2019 respectively, wherein the last year statistics illustrate that the demand of the National Health Window services increased in 6.5% in 2020 (after the CVID-19 outbreak) (DGHS, 2021).

At present, about 7.24% people are receiving telemedicine services from the National Health Window (NHW).According to the statistics of the NHW, in January (2021), the total number of calls received from service seekers was 2,15,326, which has been more than double in July (4,81,426). Since the NHW provides real-time telemedicine services at a minimum cost, people’s interest has significantly increased in terms of receiving emergency healthcare services from the National Health Window.

NHW’s statistics further demonstrated that every day an average of about 16,000 people is now seeking telemedicine services from the National Health Window. Although about 62.21% of people are now taking telemedicine services, about 38.79% of people in Bangladesh are still deprived of the National Health Window services. Many people do not get service even after calling 30/50 times.

In this regard, lack of skilled doctors, lack of professionalism, ineffective communication, patient dissatisfaction, and inadequate service quality are the main challenge of the National Health Window that is impeding the telemedicine services amid the pandemic. Besides, poor internet connection, poor ICT culture among healthcare professionals, insufficient device, etc. is other major challenges of telemedicine services in Bangladesh.

However, since people’s interest has been increasing towards the telemedicine services i.e especially National Health Window (16263) services in terms of taking primary healthcare services and healthcare information amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the concerned authorities should increase the number of service providers in the e-health care sector as well as improve the quality of e-healthcare services.

Therefore, to address the challenges of telemedicine services, concerned authorities should focus on the infrastructural development of the e-health sectors. Especially, necessary grants and technical support should be provided to the e-health sector so that this sector can provide efficient and quality healthcare services to the service seekers.
The writer is a Student, Department of Public Administration and Governance Studies, JatiyaKabiKaziNazrul Islam University, Trishal, Mymensingh.

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