Bridging the healthcare gap in Pakistan

“I want my daughter to see a world where equality, justice and otherness is the right of every living being.”

– Dr Sara Saeed (29) Co-Founder, doctHERs, 2016 Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneur Awards, the Prince of Wales Prize Winner

Image for post
Image for post
Photo Credit to doctHERs

“I was a graduate from one of the finest medical universities in Pakistan. I was bright, talented and had the passion to give back to my community. After 14 years of training and building my hopes and dreams to be a Doctor, I was forced to quit — forced to make a choice between my career and my baby. This story rings true for over 14,000 female doctors graduating from Pakistani medical colleges every year — out of 70,000 licensed physicians in Pakistan — only 9,000 are female. Why? These highly intelligent women are falling into the doctor-bride phenomenon — where graduating with a medical degree will reward a better reputation in the family, a higher dowry, or a better marriage proposal but will at the same time never offer the opportunity to work, build a career or save the lives of millions.”

Sajida is a mother of five children. She lives in an urban slum in Karachi, she is a widow and she also suffers from vaginal fistula — a condition that occurs after repeatedly giving birth at home. Her condition requires her to see a medical doctor every month — an activity near impossible since her nearest female doctor is one hour drive away, and where she must wait four to five hours to be seen by a busy doctor. As it happens, her health is deteriorating. This is the problem of 120 million Pakistanis that live below the poverty line, earning less than $2 per day and where 37 per cent of women still deliver at home, where IMR, MMR and children-under-five death rates are increasing day by day.”

So, what can we do to bridge this health gap?

Dr Sara Saeed (29) created doctHERs — a digital platform which connects impoverished communities in Pakistan to high-quality healthcare, while reintegrating qualified female doctors into the workforce — a life saving initiative which was awarded first prize at the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards earlier this month. From prototyping with 100 patients in 2014, Dr Saeed and her team have now opened five clinics, directly impacting the lives of 15,000, employing 10 doctors, five nurses and three specialists. By 2020, they aim to reach 1.2 million patients and be making huge progress towards shattering the socio-cultural barriers that prevent around 87 per cent of Pakistan’s female doctors from working.

“We create bricks and mortar clinics in rural communities through a co-ownership scheme. By engaging community elders, men, women, schools and colleges and by connecting door-to-door with over 1,000 households, we have built a one stop shop for primary healthcare — physical clinics which contain virtual doctors, pharmacies, collection points, ultrasounds, physiotherapists and health awareness programmes which enable patients like Sajida to live a healthier, happier life.”

To reach scale, Dr Sara Saeed and her team have built cross-sector alliances with community partners, development organisations, and upgrading existing clinics to bring in doctHERs telemedicine health services to clinics currently run by midwives. By connecting with companies like Unilever in Pakistan, Dr Saeed is bringing telemedical kiosks into factories, improving health and hygiene, wellness training and mental health awareness and support to an industry which employs 50 per cent women.

“When a patient gets treated in my clinic, when a doctor gets a job, and when a nurse is empowered in a community — my passion increases every day.”

With financial and strategic support, Dr Saeed can look forward to working with more community partners and organisations such as Unilever to impact even more lives.

These Awards are part of Unilever’s efforts, to support the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and celebrate inspirational entrepreneurs aged 35 and under who have developed a product, service or application that tackles some of the world’s biggest sustainability challenges.

Unilever CEO Paul Polman said: “I am incredibly impressed by Dr Saeed’s passion and determination to increase access to healthcare and empower women in the medical profession in Pakistan. Her work and that of the other finalists show that momentum is building behind the Sustainable Development Goals, but we all still need to increase our efforts. We need new ideas, new energy, new business models — particularly from the young and the entrepreneurial. They need our help and support to realise their initiatives and change the world to create a bright future.”

927 young entrepreneurs, from 99 countries on six continents entered via the Ashoka Changemakers platform — an online community that connects social entrepreneurs around the globe to share ideas.

As part of the prize Dr Sara Saeed has been awarded €50,000 and she will be supported with a tailored mentoring programme delivered by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and Unilever over the course of the year. The six runners-up each receive a cash prize of €10,000 in addition to mentoring and support.

“I urge you to join me creating a Pakistan where every human has the chance to get primary quality health care.”

Find out more about the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneur Award and all seven 2016 finalists, and our partners: the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and Ashoka, the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide.

Written by

We work across sectors with social entrepreneurs, businesses and educators to create a world in which everyone is equipped and empowered to be a changemaker.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store