Too few doctors
There are far too few doctors in Zambia – only 1600 for a population of over 14 million.
This means patients are often not properly treated, so their condition deteriorates.
Doctors in the wrong place
Two thirds of doctors live in urban areas; two thirds of the population live in rural Zambia.
They then have to walk or cycle for many hours, or even days, to reach a district hospital.
Under-equipped rural health centres
Consequently, most rural health centres are under-staffed and under-equipped.
1 in 9 children will not reach the age of 5*
13.5% of the adult population are HIV+*
* World Health Organisation 2013
Telemedicine helps solve these problems
The Zambian Ministry of Health's e-Health Strategy 2013-2016 included telemedicine in its strategic priorities. It accepted the “need to embrace and promote telemedicine… by developing a comprehensive framework, guidelines and operational model on its use.”
There is also growing academic research into telemedicine. Salatian et al (1) note 'benefits at federal, state and community level...across all political parties, religious dogmas, village councils and tribal and ethnic groups."
Research to prove the value of telemedicine to healthcare workers in rural Kenya compared face to face consultations with submitted telemedicine case files for the same sample of patients. Medical feedback was consistent between the two methods in 78% of cases; and treatment advice was consistent between the two methods in 89% of cases (2).
1. Salatian, A., Zivkovic, J. and Ademoh, F. (2012) Telemedicine for Rural Sub-Saharan Africa - Benefits and Drawbacks. Allied Academies International Conference, Academy of Health Care Management 9(1), pp. 9-13
2. Qin, R., Dzombak, R., Amin, R. and Mehta, K. (2013) Reliability of a Telemedicine System Designed for Rural Kenya. Journal of Primary Care & Community Health, Vol. 4, No. 3, pp. 177- 181
Latest figures - January 2017
As per our Medical Director, Dr Fran Fieldhouse:
"Mike, our GP trustee and I recently conducted a clinical governance review of the Virtual Doctors service. We examined sample cases from each of our 42 volunteers checking the advice was:
· Clinically correct
· Written in plain English
· Appropriate to the resources available
We were delighted by the high quality.
The majority of our volunteers have experience working in resource poor settings so have an understanding of the issues the Clinical Officers face. The feedback from the Clinical Officers confirmed that the Virtual Doctors advice was beneficial.
89% said it helped improve patient symptoms
80% said it prevented a referral to hospital
93% found it educational
Their comments included:
“Am learning a lot from the doctors in the UK. I appreciate the work they are doing. Work becomes much easy. “
“VD very helpful. As the programme does not only benefit the patients but also increases knowledge for the healthy provider. Keep it up VD”
“The Information is very educational. Timing is good. Less than 24 hrs you have the answers.”
It’s fantastic to know the volunteers are doing such great work. Thank you."