Author: Sameea Ashraf
Pakistan has the 6th largest population in the world, with 188 million people. Unfortunately, a huge amount of those 188 million live in rural areas with highly underdeveloped infrastructure. Yes, Pakistan is a developing country. However, our healthcare is not even up to par with other developing countries (http://dataviz.worldbank.org) . Basic health units in rural areas are not equipped appropriately—and even when they are, doctor availability is often low. This poor performance in the health sector is mainly due to ineffective delivery of services: greater access and use of basic healthcare information will contribute to the prevention of many diseases and thus save many lives.
Healthcare information includes patient record, availability of medicines and their supply and demand, epidemic disease information (to prevent spread), and availability of doctors and paramedical staff in the primary health units. Efficient and timely delivery of healthcare information would drastically improve the health system and facilities in rural areas. Unfortunately, broadband penetration has been very low (http://www.ispak.pk/Downloads/MoITStudyonBroadbandPenetration.pdf), and the situation is even worse in remote and mountainous regions. Because connecting remote areas to broadband requires extensive infrastructure—and therefore, extensive investment—neither public nor private companies see any financial benefit to provide Wi-Fi, mobile, or other communication facilities in those areas.
Research has shown (http://www.ictinagriculture.org/sourcebook/module-2-making-ict-more-accessible-and-affordable-rural-areas) just how complex developing rural ICT infrastructure is—the “last mile” of infrastructure would be manufactured at a prohibitively high cost to justify setting up the network. Given these constraints, a creative and cost-effective solution would be a combination of delay tolerant networks based on VANET (Vehicle Adhoc Network) and wireless sensor nodes.
VANET is a routing protocol based on a ‘store and forward’ approach where data is incrementally moved and stored throughout the network, inching forward until it eventually reaches its destination. The network is composed of two or more wireless sensor nodes, and each node is capable of performing some process gathering sensory information and communicating with other similar nodes.
Data from these wireless nodes is transferred to a wireless unit deployed in local public buses available in these areas. These local buses, which connect the District Head Quarter to remote areas, will automatically pickup and deliver new data packages at every stop and transfer these packages over the internet when it arrives in DHQ (where an internet connection is available). This will work for services that are not time crucial such as email, web based applications, and static web pages that can be cached locally.
The system would be composed of low power personal computers whose task is to update the following data:
- Patient Record System
- Epidemic disease control data
- Tracking of medicine stocks
- Training data for paramedical staff
- Vaccination records
- Hospital staff attendance
- Other necessary data or required information needed to deliver to DHQ.
This system could be deployed in the primary health units and DHQs, and would be on top of every HIS (Health Information System), wireless nodes which will transfer data between health information systems of primary health care units and DHQ’s via a vehicle based wireless unit. It could also be used with a mobile sensor which would use delay tolerant network methodology. In this way, the system will store information and provide a wireless link between Remote Primary Healthcare systems and DHQ systems, and could vastly increase the efficacy of remote healthcare.