BY: ARFA MASIHUDDIN, M.B.B.S., BATCH XX
Currently constituting a network of 14 E-Health Hubs across Pakistan (Sindh, Punjab, KPK and Karachi) and serving more than 440,000 patients directly and indirectly through its digital healthcare services, Sehat Kahani works with the will to create an all-female health provider network to ensure quality healthcare solutions for communities where health access, quality, and affordability of healthcare are still a dream, using cost-effective ICT enabled solutions.
In the following interview, Dr Iffat Zafar Aga, a proud Ziauddin alumnus, and co-founder and Chief Development Officer at Sehat Kahani talks about her journey and explains what Sehat Khani is about.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Tell us something about yourself. What inspired you to start Sehat Kahani?
I am a doctor, an entrepreneur, and a mother of a little 4-year-old. I graduated from Ziauddin from the 7th batch and we finished house job in 2008. After my graduation, I realized that the gaps were immense in terms of health in my country. In my pursuit of ensuring my reach to as many people as I could, I switched careers and moved over to the pharmaceutical segment for a few years only to realise that true impact can only happen through some Public Health intervention and this is when I landed a job in a micro-health insurance organization where I met my then partners who were piloting an amazing and innovative idea of recruiting home-based female physicians and connecting them to the marginalized communities and I fell in love with this instantly. As they say, life is very unpredictable. I began my journey with this idea in business development and who would know that two months later I was representing it as the Cofounder.
The inspiration behind Sehat Kahani is my personal journey and my personal struggle since I know how difficult it is to become a doctor, particularly if you come from a middle-income family background where finances are very limited. It feels very ironic and unfair that women shouldn’t work after acquiring such a prestigious degree, and that a huge gender bias exists in Pakistan due to which our women are not given their due rights. So, while women in communities lack the basic right to good quality healthcare, women physicians lack the right of being able to practice medicine fully. This is what instils the passion in me as well as in my partner, Dr Sara Khurram (co-founder & CEO Sehat Kahani), to put in all our efforts ensuring each day is meaningful.
What is Sehat Kahani about?
Sehat Kahani is a telehealth Platform that connects at home-out of workforce female doctors to underserved patients in low and middle-income markets providing access to quality health care via 3 channels :
1) Access: By using trusted intermediaries in the communities and dormant health infrastructure, we create Sehat Kahani E-Health Hubs where a frontline worker is trained via a 5 step training on medical knowledge, leadership and soft skills to connect patients in these Hubs to qualified home-based female physicians and skills specialists using video consultation and Electronic Medical Records systems.
2) Prevention: Sehat Kahani, through its preventive healthcare portfolio, creates innovative preventive health care messaging activities in target communities to bring out a long-term change in behaviours and health patterns. barriers.
3) Efficiency: Through our specialized telehealth platform we have designed digital health solutions to reduce the disease load of tertiary care hospitals by treating primary and secondary diseases via virtual home base female doctors who are part of the Sehat Kahani network, in less than 3 clicks.
Other than that, Sehat Kahani has been a part of a SPRING accelerator cohort 2 (ADFID and Nike Foundation) Project and was also a runner-up of She Loves Tech Competition. We have also recently won the I-Tech Young Entrepreneur Award.
Where do you see Sehat Kahani ten years down the lane?
I envision Sehat Kahani to be a household name in the near future, through the Sehat Kahani Mobile application and through the creation of almost 200 E-health clinics nationwide providing healthcare to people in the most remote areas possible. Hopefully, we will also have impacted more than 15 million lives through these 2 platforms; i.e the mobile application and the e-clinics. In the next 10 years, we also envision to have recruited and brought more than 5000 female physicians back to the workforce.
Work-life balance, especially in a hardcore profession like medicine, is a tough call for women. Having a soaring career while enjoying a happy family life is considered impossible by many because of which a distressingly large number of women give up their professional goals. While it does seem unfair and priorities vary, the society at large needs to understand that with a little empathy and support, working women can enjoy both a career and family life. How does Sehat Kahani help the woman of today achieve all of that?
Sehat Kahani is an organization built by women for women. Recruiting, enabling, capacitating, and providing financial independence to all the various tiers of female healthcare professionals (including nurses, midwives, CHWs and most importantly, female physicians) has been the ultimate vision of Sehat Kahani, hence, the needs of these women are always prioritised.
The physicians joining our team are given flexible work options and they are able to work from the comforts of their homes so that they can easily come back to the workforce without disrupting their social and cultural barriers. We have opportunities for these female physicians in various diverse segments, for example, they are given the provision to work in our clinics as telemedicine doctors and are often connected to other organizations.
Similarly, the team members working in the office are also given flexibilities depending on their jobs. My Cofounder and I often bring our 4-year-old daughters to our office; we have a dedicated room in our office for children and if any of our full-time female employees ever plan to bring in their children to work, they will be fully supported.
In what ways can Sehat Kahani help the medical student fraternity or vice versa?
Sehat Kahani is all about collaborations and opportunities and the key ingredient of our success are the various healthcare professionals, medical students, and institutes that collaborate with us. Sehat Kahani would love to engage with all the medical students particularly the female students of Ziauddin University. We would like to conduct a workshop with the student bodies of Ziauddin to introduce them to Sehat Kahani, and to help them engage with us. Apart from this, Sehat Kahani is frequently conducting various health awareness campaigns, camps and workshops in which the Ziauddin Students can volunteer for which they will be provided with certificates. These medical campaigns add to the clinical as well as the community experience and exposure of these medical students (both males and females).
We also offer internship opportunities for medical students (males as well as females) interested in either community medicine or in medical research. Interning opportunities in medico-marketing, preventive healthcare, digital health (mobile app, medical CRM, Data Analytics) and mental health are also available. Students are given projects to work on for 4-6 weeks and are provided with certificates upon its completion.
Female medical students, once they graduate, are also provided employment opportunities through telemedicine.
Any interesting stories regarding Sehat Kahani that you would like to share with us?
One of the very inspiring stories of health for us within Sehat Kahani is related with Mental health. Dadar Mental Hospital was a government hospital but ironically a mental hospital devoid of mental health care experts and had almost 100 patients admitted there since years (with no psychiatrist on board). When Sehat Kahani ventured into that clinic, we initially connected 1 psychiatrist to this clinic (Dr Sameeha Aleem, who is also interestingly the Senior Registrar in the Psychiatry department of Ziauddin and a panel expert for Sehat Kahani in Mental Health). After that, the need grew so much that we also added 2 more psychiatrists and since the last 1 and a half year, more than 30 patients have been discharged from this hospital. Sehat Kahani’s intervention also brought Dadar Mental Hospital back on the map with many governmental and non-governmental organizations taking interest in it hence improvising and renovating the hospital which was built during the independence era. It has also started a new and innovative approach towards Mental health altogether in Pakistan.
With the success of this project, we have recently started working on the mental health of the female prisoners in the central jail of Karachi as well – a very exciting, challenging project. This is just the beginning of what Sehat Kahani aims to attain in mental health overall.
What message would you like to give our upcoming generation of female doctors, and to their support systems?
Come into this profession with an open mind and a strong will. Do not become a doctor just because your mother or father asked you to because trust me, they would be more interested in better marriage prospects for you than the actual profession itself. If you do want to become a doctor, understand that this is and SHOULD be a lifelong commitment; a commitment to serve your own country. Be prepared for challenges, be ambitious and know that it will be a rough ride, but the satisfaction that one gets from working in itself is worth it.
To the parents: let your daughters study, let them work, make them ambitious. Make them independent, let them figure their lives out themselves, let them discover. Be there for them when they need to grow and fly. If it means taking care of their children for a few hours while they go to work, or it means speaking and convincing their future life partners that your daughters will work, be there for them stand up for them because if you won’t, no one else will.
For future husbands and in-laws: don’t marry a doctor if you do not want your life partner to work. Understand the effort and energy she has invested in becoming a doctor. Please understand that by you not letting her work, you are taking her whole life away from her. Don’t do that, go ahead and marry someone else. IF you do marry a doctor and are open to her work, be her support when she needs you the most; if it means taking care of children when she might have her night calls or if she travels for work, or if it means helping out with household chores, please do so. Understand that this all comes as a part of the parcel of marrying a doctor; a professional.
About the interviewer: “Do, or do not. There is no try.”