Bangladesh startups plug healthcare gaps to deliver

Tazrian Iqbal | Sunday, 7 April 2024

World Health Organization (WHO) ‘s mantra for the year 2024 is ‘My Health, My Right.’ This is driven by the fact that at least 4.5 billion people, more than half of our world’s population, were not fully protected by essential health services during the pandemic. Hence, this year’s theme further highlights the importance of recognizing our health as a fundamental human right. Broadly, to promote efforts ensuring that every person, regardless of their socioeconomic status, geographic location, or any other external factors, can access all the health services that fall under the essential umbrella and lead healthy lives that meet the bare minimum standard. This theme of ‘My Health, My Right’ aligns with WHO’s greater agenda of forwarding the conversation and action plans for health equity and addressing inconsistencies in health outcomes worldwide, and Bangladesh is no exception.
 Our nation’s reality is that most patients, particularly in rural areas, are only keen on visiting healthcare professionals if conditions get serious simply because the ratio of healthcare service providers to patients is substantially imbalanced. 
The wait for doctor appointments takes too long. People are prone to misplacing their medical records and prescriptions, which they often need help retrieving since they are all physical records. But the most significant factor remains that there just aren’t enough trained doctors and nurses to provide every individual with the care a sick person needs. 
A severe shortage and unequal distribution of qualified health personnel are major stumbling blocks: only 25% of health workers serve rural areas, but 70% of the population lives, according to icddr,b. This is where healthcare startups come into play.
 With rising demands, healthcare startups leverage tech advancements to deliver healthcare services, whether telemedicine, e-medicine delivery, at-home diagnostics services, or just e-consultations over Zoom or Skype. They can make these tedious administration tasks more efficient and also help connect people from rural areas to experienced doctors, keep track of patient’s health records digitally, provide e-prescriptions, and deliver medicines that cannot be found at the hospital pharmacy. All these services can be availed only with an internet connection. 
 The top ten players in the healthcare startup landscape are companies like Arogga, Maya, MedEasy, DocTime, Praava Health, Zaynax Health, Jeeon, AmarLab, CMED Health, and DoctorKoi. 
These burgeoning industry players have seized shifting consumer markets in Bangladesh post-pandemic by offering a plethora of digital healthcare services and also have particular specializations. 
For example, Arogga specializes in reducing counterfeit medicines by supplying a wide range of original drugs at reasonable prices to end users. 
Maya caters to women’s health concerns, and Praava Health is responsible for all our mental health queries, providing user anonymity. 
Through AmarLab, patients can schedule video consultations with doctors and have blood test samples collected from home or office, delivering digital and physical reports to customers. In this way, startups can help empower local hospitals in Bangladesh. 
However, the ease of availability of these healthcare services remains a luxury in rural Bangladesh. With poor internet infrastructures and high travel expenditures, cross-collaborating amongst the startups above with local and private hospitals instead of operating as a separate entity is vital. 
Following this ideology, diagnostic centres can be decentralized so that reports generated from labs can directly communicate with nearby Zila hospitals, and patient records can be digitally updated for follow-up with doctors.
GoB has mapped out a plan to issue a digital health card to all Bangladeshi citizens in January of this year. These digital health cards store information on doctor’s appointments, health conditions, and tests, and the cost of obtaining one promises no. Patients can carry these cards to every hospital instead of physical prescriptions and tests, allowing doctors seamless access to their medical details. 
Such advancements can create a domino effect, inviting the implementation of more tech advancements. The primary concern lingers: operating sophisticated systems requires education and training of both the admin and patients. 
In emergencies, people only want to spend a little time dealing with the intricacies of slow and demanding online forms. This is also where healthcare startups can exercise an upper hand in building awareness of service issues, collaborating with public health experts and youth organizations for better infrastructures and policies that align with the WHO theme. 
Despite intentions to reach the lower socioeconomic classes and move toward universal health coverage, only some projects consider health equity, accountability, or governance issues in their design, implementation, or evaluation. 
Ideally, they can all unite with policymakers to map out a system that uplifts and develops the rural healthcare community to make terms of live-action also plan. 
It can be determined with absolute conviction that patient privacy and data protection are of the utmost significance, especially regarding healthcare needs. A lack of privacy infrastructure can lead to data breaches, anomalies, manipulation, and, in extreme cases, abuse of the healthcare system. 
While healthcare startups can ensure data encryption, will the government ensure the same service and privacy quality is provided? 
In these cases, we must have accountability, the department in which the government has a legacy of lacking. 
One thing is for sure: Every healthcare startup plays a role in helping Bangladeshis be a little healthier, a little more alive. Every drop counts; their individual impact might appear small, but the collective vision and specialization make all the difference. From bustling city streets to remote villages, let the pulse of progress beat strong so we can ensure that no one is left behind.
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