How telemedicine supported strengthening of primary care
Covid-19 was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on January 30, 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO). Several member-states in the South East Asia (SEA) region enforced strict lockdowns with an aim to contain the pandemic. Healthcare workers were deployed for pandemic response and healthcare facilities were repurposed as Covid-19 centres resulting in widespread disruptions to routine health services delivery. Frontline healthcare workers engaged in contact tracing were at increased risk and with a large number of them getting infected with Covid-19, the disruptions to primary care delivery were accentuated.
Public health response to the pandemic included introduction of digital health interventions aimed at exposure notifications, contact tracing, self- care and remote monitoring for those with suspected or confirmed Covid-19. In some instances, both public and private health care facilities were shut down to prevent face-to-face contact and thereby reduce the disease transmission in health care facilities. Only designated Covid-19 hospitals were functional during the lockdown in many of the SEA countries. Those with pre-existing illnesses who were at high risk for contracting Covid-19 were advised not to visit health care facilities and care delivery for non-Covid conditions came to a grinding halt. As the pandemic progressed, several countries in the region introduced or expanded access to telemedicine services to maintain essential medical care as face-to-face visits were deemed unsafe thus making telemedicine critical for care delivery as defined by the WHO.
(The study has been authored by Nachiket Gudi and others)