TNM Plc and the Virtual Doctors have formed a telemedicine partnership, with support from the Ministry of Health, in order to deliver a simple but powerful online healthcare platform that has the potential to benefit all Malawians.
Malawi needs more doctors to cater to its 18 million population and nearly two-thirds of all doctors in Malawi are working in towns and cities, while most of the country’s population is in the countryside.
For many communities, it is not practical to expect sick and frail people to walk or cycle for hours to reach the nearest hospital.
Therefore, families depend on rural health centers, which have health workers but limited numbers of qualified doctors.
The Virtual Doctors project connects isolated health centers in rural Malawi with volunteer doctors, based predominantly in the UK, using a bespoke smartphone app.
If a healthcare worker encounters a challenging case or needs clinical advice, they can enter a patient’s symptoms into the app,along withphotos if relevant, for example if they need advice on a skin rash.
This information is then sent electronically to a volunteer doctor who can assist with making a correct diagnosis and offer advice on appropriate treatment options.
This technology, developed by the UK based charity, means that these isolated healthcare workers can be supported by doctors thousands of miles away.
The service promotes treatment at the rural health centres where possible and aims to prevent unnecessary hospital referrals and the subsequent logistical and economic impact that this may have on patients and their families.
The first phase of the project commenced in 2018 in 6 sites in rural Lilongwe. BBC Radio 4 reported on the pilot and how the platform helped save three lives in a rural Lilongwe village (https://protect-za.mimecast.com/s/jGDAC58x8nF2k4nfl_DsR).
Globally, telemedicine has proved invaluable in the management of disease, with many governments and healthcare systems advocating for digital healthcare tools and virtual consults to be the first step and primary means of healthcare support.
The partnership between TNM Plc and the Virtual Doctors aims at increasing the number of trained healthcare workers to cover a larger population.
The Virtual Doctors will provide the platform, training toolkit and access to the volunteer doctors whilst TNM will provide network access, help source the devices required by healthcare workers and also provide local support for the successful ramp up of the project in Malawi.
The Virtual Doctors started in 2012 as a telemedicine charity and in 2017 launched its new technology initiative in Zambia.They now operate at 140 sites in 27 districts, covering a population of over 2 million people.
Over 6000 cases have been answered so far with ever increasing numbers of cases being managed every month.
TNM Chief Executive Officer, Michiel Buitelaar, comments: “As Malawi unites to contain the spread of COVID-19, we remain committed to supporting Malawian society and our government, not only during this unprecedented time but also going forward for the upliftment of Malawi.
Our partnership with the Virtual Doctors can go a long way in alleviating any increased pressure on specialist healthcare practitioners, while at the same time empowering health care workers in a remote area by connecting them to specialist doctors.
” In partnership with the Ministry of Health, we are providing SMS awareness messaging to over 3.6 million subscribers on corona precautions. We also enabled End of call notification with corona advisory message which is reaching to every customer when they make a call.
” As truly Malawian company we will continue to do all we can to support you and the country through this challenging time. We are all in this together and we urge Malawians to follow government and health service advice and to take care of themselves and their families.”
Virtual Doctors Executive Director, Huw Jones, comments: “We are delighted to continue our strong relationship with TNM.
“Our operations rely entirely on the generosity of supporters and donors and the partnership with TNM will help to accelerate the pace of Malawi’s telemedicine strategy right across the country.”