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Digital Offline-first Community Telehealth & Operational Rural Solutions (DOCTORS) for COVID-19

Re-purposing an existing digital health platform for low-resource settings for use in the coordinated COVID-19 response

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reach52 is transforming delivery models for primary care services in rural and remote areas of Asia using a digital public health approach, building virtual primary healthcare systems for the 52% of the world who still lack access.  We partner with governments, multi-laterals, non-profits, and the private sector to make healthcare solutions go further into communities where access is low to non-existent. The means connecting communities to a marketplace of essential medicines, products, and services through last-mile distribution and logistics.  Powered by reach52’s suite of mobile applications (integrating Facebook Messenger); a big-data approach; and our network of local, community-embedded women serving as frontline workers, we offer a range of solutions designed to increase access for the most marginalized populations in rural South East Asia.  We have now turned our resources towards the COVID-19 response.

There is a growing appreciation that the full health impact of this pandemic includes not only confirmed cases of COVID-19, but a wide range of populations with existing morbidities who rely on the health system to maintain an optimal state of wellness. Procedures and treatments deemed ‘non-essential’ have been postponed; all campaign-based health programs have been suspended or interrupted; supply-chain and logistics challenges have disrupted the delivery of health commodities, including essential medicines; and individuals are avoiding care in clinical settings because the risks of contagion.   

The impact of these disruptions is even more pronounced in rural and remote regions of LMICs, where health systems were already under strain pre-COVID due to chronic under-resourcing. 

Our pivot will reorient our suite of eHealth tools to contribute to COVID-19 response efforts, along with the launch of new digital-only solutions, all while continuing to support essential primary health services. These are available for use at no-fee for non-profit organizations.

Our Mediconnect platform facilitates virtual online training of Community Health Workers (CHWs). Trainings and educational materials can be pushed out to large numbers of CHWs on a media-rich interactive space. We have also launched a COVID-19 chatbot focusing on information, prevention tips and a symptom checker, available in 10+ languages.  In some markets, this chatbot now links to a live doctor, saving rural residents from having to venture out for basic medical care.  This doctor has the ability to offer ePrescriptions, which can be delivered to rural and remote regions through reach52’s Marketplace/Logistics network.

Our Access mobile application is designed for low-skilled CHWs in low-resource settings. Along with the accompanying web dashboard, it offers case tracking and COVID-19 surveillance functionality in offline environments. Our Marketplace mobile application provides functionality to extend e-commerce solutions for health commodities, including medicines and insurance to regions without internet connectivity. Included in this application and the accompanying web dashboard is support for micro supply-chains, facilitating last-mile delivery of products direct to the village level. 

What is the need are you focusing on?

COVID-19 has emerged as the most significant global health crisis in generations. While all regions are affected, rural populations in low- and middle-income countries are particularly vulnerable. Due to chronic structural and resource constraints, health systems in these regions possess limited capacity to detect and respond to acute viral epidemics. These health systems face the dual challenge of responding to COVID-19 while maintaining existing health services. With measures such as ‘social distancing’ and freedom of movement restrictions, public health events and screening programs have been indefinitely postponed, while medical services deemed ‘non-essential’ have been severely curtailed. Specifically, rural health systems in LMICs are faced with three key challenges: 1) Shortage of trained health workers for COVID-19 2) Poor access to information, symptom advice and telehealth services 3) Affordable products & traditional supply chains do not reach these communities

What is the best example of business adaption you’ve seen in response to COVID-19?

Here in Cambodia, tens of thousands of garment workers have been laid off due to hundreds of factories closing because of a lack of orders and supply chain challenges. The garment industry accounts for 95% of exports in this country, so it is incredibly significant economically. Some enterprising garment workers have started sewing and selling homemade masks in an attempt to recoup some of their lost income. Like many other places, the price of common sanitary masks here have tripled or quadrupled, creating a market for low-cost alternatives. Community organizations have provided support for these efforts.

What is your profession?

Head of Partnerships at reach52, a digital health startup

Where are you located (country)?

Headquartered in Singapore, we have staff in Philippines, Cambodia, India and UK

Where are you located (region)?

  • South-eastern Asia

Which industry do you work in?

  • Healthcare/Medical
  • Technology

Are you aware of any open source efforts, hackathons or other collaborative efforts related to your submission? Are you participating in these efforts?

Our solution was a finalist in the recent COVID-19 Global Hackathon 1.0


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