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Covid Action Collab works to ramp up telehealth across vulnerable communities

Nandita Vijay, Bengaluru
Monday, June 20, 2022, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Covid Action Collab (CAC), a partnership of multiple institutions including state governments, is working to ramp up telehealth initiative across vulnerable communities in the country.  This collaboration consists of 350 partners.

During the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, healthcare systems worldwide and in India adopted rapid digitalization. In India, which needed to ensure healthcare access to a significant number of people, telemedicine has shown the potential to step in at this challenging time, stated Dr Angela Chaudhuri, health lead of CAC.

Our two telehealth initiatives ‘Titilee’ & 'Call4Svasth' extended the support. ‘Titilee’ was targeted at rural populations and tribes living in remote areas.  The second programme, called Call4Svasth (C4S), serves deprived communities in both rural and urban areas. Titilee relied on a cadre of volunteers to connect community members to remote doctors, while the C4S program employs nurses and trained telecallers to carry out both in-bound and out-bound calls to the community.

'Titilee' was immensely effective as an emergency response at the peak of the Covid wave. 'Call4Svasth' continues to be operational and is being expanded to include more people from the marginalized section of society, said Dr Chaudhuri who is also the director of Swasti Health Catalyst, a partner organization of CAC.

From addressing the lack of infrastructure to the paucity of human resources, telemedicine is making healthcare accessible and convenient. It is saving time and money for rural communities by reducing the need for travel to receive care. Additionally, instead of depending on vulnerable populations to reach out for medical assistance, healthcare providers can stay in touch with such populations without depending solely on smartphones, she added.

After a few months of a downslide, we are now witnessing a significant spike in the number of Covid cases in India. With the devastating second wave in the near past, we cannot afford to let our guard down. In this context, it becomes important to prepare for the upcoming infection surges. Much of the care and counseling services are available through teleconsultation. Telecare serves to protect communities through community surveillance, self-testing, support in case of infection, home isolation and transfer to the hospital or Covid-Care Centers, said Dr Chaudhuri.

However, there is a need for technology adoption to address the health service delivery for the poor and marginalized segments. Telemedicine by itself, through the presence of helplines, does not make healthcare accessible to the most marginalized populations. The digital divide and the social and emotional determinants of health make telemedicine merely a stop-gap solution in the care continuum for low-income communities, she noted.

Our integrated digital platforms are hyper-localized, community-led, cost-effective helplines run by trained nurses, nurse-aide-callers, front-line counselors, and social protection officers. Serving over 800,000 households in India, telecare has been implemented with a network of around 60 community health workers and telecare staff that manages the programme. These services are awareness about Covid-19, risk assessment, counseling services, vaccination onboarding and registration support, facilitation of government social protection schemes along with the provision of safe home quarantine, said Dr Chaudhuri.


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