I remember the moment I opened my eyes after the surgery. There were a few people huddled around the bed next to mine, and they were all crying. Before I had a chance to ask what had happened my mother held my hand and said, “Thank God. My dear, you are safe. The woman next to you has… lost her life.”
At that time I didn’t realize the import of her statement. After a few hours passed, I asked a doctor about the woman. The doctor told me that she, Najma, a 30-year old mother-to-be, came from a remote village in Mardan, Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa (Pakistan). The area has a shortage of local doctors. Community health workers are often the only health care resource available to them during pregnancy. Largely, their knowledge of health and health care is informed by local cultural practices and much needed care.
Najma’s experience tells an important story about the struggles of villages with scarce resources. She had experienced back pain early in her pregnancy, a sign of her impending ailment, but did not access care. Her mother-in-law, for one, dismissed the pain as trivial and even forbade her to consult a doctor. She thought it was a normal sign just like some women in this area crave for soil during pregnancy. Soon enough Najma suffered sudden pains while cooking for her family and collapsed to the floor.
Two hours passed before she was found. After a lot of blood loss she was taken to the hospital. From her village, the hospital is normally accessible by a three-hour bus ride. Due to underdeveloped and poorly maintained roads the urgently needed commute took Najma, her husband and mother-in-law even longer. By the time they reached the hospital, she had died.
Najma had an ectopic pregnancy and due to excessive internal bleeding she didn’t survive. I had forgotten my own suffering after hearing all this. I too had an ectopic pregnancy but the difference between us was that I was aware of all the symptoms and had reached the hospital at a very early stage. I could easily have been in her place but I was fortunate to have been under observation since the first day of my pregnancy.
Najma’s death made me realize that even when no doctor is available, timely communication among providers in the health care delivery system can be lifesaving. I think how differently the outcome may have been for Najma had she been notified through mobile communications that the symptoms were serious and that she needed to consult a doctor urgently. Her life could have been saved. This incident compelled me to pursue a career in the mobile health field to make access to healthcare services possible for underserved populations.
I am a software engineer working in the mobile health field. Presently, I am working at the Public Health Institute as an Atlas Corp fellow. My areas of interest are eHealth and mHealth. I am involved with projects that support the employment of solutions to prevent disease, enhance health services and manage the health of populations. Upon completion of this fellowship, I will return to Pakistan and take a leadership role working with communities where access to health care is suboptimal. My aim is to strengthen the capacity of communities to address health issues through mHealth and eHealth, as well as to introduce sustainable programs to improve health in rural areas.
Prior to the fellowship, I worked as a consultant for the International Telecommunication Unionat the U.N. Headquarters in Geneva where I conducted research on national Information and communications technology (ICT) strategies and eHealth policies in a number of countries. In 2009, I won the ITU Cyber Security and ICT Competition, which was open to contestants from all over the world. I covered the topic of Mobiles for Development: Enabling Low-Cost e-Applications for Rural and Remote Areas (e-Health, e-Government, e-Environment). I also worked as a volunteer with the USAID-funded Pakistan Initiative for Mothers and Newborns (PAIMAN). More recently, I served as technical director for the Heart of Asia project, which was funded by theMinistry of Information and Broadcasting in Pakistan. This involved the development of a massive web portal in Pakistan to project a softer and more favorable image of the country to the international community.
I have also worked for the Jaroka project, a collaborative program between Stanford University, the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America, and Higher Education Commission/USAID Pakistan aiming to strengthen the capacity of women health workers in rural Mardan, Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa, through telemedicine interventions.
Through this blog I will be sharing my thoughts on advancing the role of eHealth and Health as solutions for strengthening health systems in low- and middle-income countries. My goal is to use mobile technology to make access to and the delivery of healthcare services possible for populations in rural areas and from low socio-economic backgrounds. I hope you will enjoy my blog posts!