Global eHealth student connects thousands with women doctors in Pakistan.

  • Iffat Zafar

Press/Media: Project or Organisational News Item


Could an army of female 'tele-medics' solve Pakistan's chronic doctor shortage?

This article, published in The Telegraph, describes the pioneering work of Dr Iffat Zahir and her colleagues at health startup Zehat Kahani, to connect women doctors with rural citizens in Pakistan. The project is highly innovative, both in its use of tele-health to reach clinically underserved populations, and through its success in bringing trained female doctors back into the workforce, which has previously been hindered by social domestic norms after marriage. 

Dr Zafar credits the MSc in Global eHealth, in part, for helping her to acheive this success and has been a strong advocate of the programme, whose founder and director Dr Claudia Pagliari is based at the University of Edinburgh's Medical School.


Period31 Jul 2019

Media coverage


Media coverage

  • TitleCould an army of female 'tele-medics' solve Pakistan's chronic doctor shortage?
    Degree of recognitionInternational
    Media name/outletThe Telegraph
    CountryUnited Kingdom
    DescriptionA healthcare start-up in Pakistan is trying to tackle a chronic shortage of doctors in the country by using technology to tap into a pool of women medics who are unable to work.

    Pakistan is short of as many as 200,000 doctors, with many in rural areas unable to easily reach healthcare.

    Yet at the same time large numbers of women who qualify in medicine are later unable to practise because of family pressure to remain in the home, or look after children.

    The firm called Sehat Kahani has set up a tele-health network allowing female doctors to give consultations while working part time and not leaving their homes.

    The network is now being used by one of Prince Charles' charities to improve mental health treatment in Pakistan.

    “We are trying to breach the barriers between two market areas,” explained Dr Iffat Zafar. “There's a large number of women who graduate as doctors, but because of social and cultural norms, they don't practise.”

    Research by the Medical Council of Pakistan, has estimated that half of female doctors drop out of work. More than 70 per cent of medical students are female.

    At the same time basic healthcare is unavailable for many, she said. Women patients in deprived areas have little chance of seeing a doctor, let alone a female doctor. “How we bridge them is through technology,” she Dr Zafar.

    Sehat Kahani operates by opening clinics targeting women in deprived areas. Patients are are seen by a nurse and can then be referred to a tele-health appointment with a doctor. The firm already has 1,500 doctors on its books and 25 clinics.

    The British Asian Trust is now using the growing network to provide appointments with psychiatrists and psychologists. A shortage of professionals and a stigma around mental health, have led to a shortage in treatment.

    “Female health care is neglected,” said Dr Zafar. “Men are expected to be very strong, cannot cry. We grow up with these notions, that a woman's healthcare needs are not that important, that a man has to be very strong and cannot cry. This is what stops people from spotting if any mental health issue is happening.”
    PersonsIffat Zafar


  • Telehealth
  • Digital Health
  • MSc Global eHealth
  • Women
  • Medical Workforce
  • FutureWork
  • Mental health
  • Innovation