When COVID-19 hit Pakistan, Maliha Khalid and her team streamlined their free health care service Doctory, to help millions of patients avoid multiple referrals and find the right doctor immediately. Now the business is part of the national rapid response to the pandemic. It has launched the National COVID-19 Helpline, connecting men and women wherever they are to faster, quality health care, saving them money and time.
Doctory is a triage network, allowing people from any part of Pakistan to call and speak to a primary care physician in just five minutes. “Navigating Pakistan’s health care system is often frustrating and confusing,” said Maliha. “We are creating tools to make high-quality health care accessible to every Pakistani, regardless of their location or income.”
Maliha’s company is one of seven winners from among 2,400 applicants to the World Bank Group’s annual SDGs&Her competition. In partnership with UNDP, UN Women, and the Wharton School Zicklin Center, the competition supports women entrepreneurs around the world, so that they can thrive in their businesses while helping achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Since COVID-19 hit, the World Bank Group has taken fast action to help strengthen the global pandemic response. Projects are deploying $160 billion in financing, with support tailored to the health, economic, and social shocks countries are facing.
Dial a doctor anywhere
With less than half of the global population covered by essential health services, Doctory’s work supports SDG 3, Good health and wellbeing. It all started when Maliha started experiencing fainting spells during high school. Her mother tried to find help, but faced confusing questions. Which type of doctor should she talk to? Where would she find them? Would the doctor be available, or listen before giving a diagnosis?
The experience left Maliha with serious questions. With 63% of Pakistan’s population living in rural areas, funding multiple trips to distant hospitals is very expensive for most families. “People in rural areas make the arduous journey to a faraway hospital first to get an appointment,” Maliha explained. “They must navigate multiple languages and travel again for the appointment itself, costing more money. They might give up altogether, seeking home remedies and further risking their health.”
“I realized that the problems stem from the initial journey of a patient, when they are trying to determine which doctor to see. The issue is not confined to any gender, socioeconomic class, or literacy level – it is across the board,” she said. “On average, it takes five referrals before a patient reaches the right doctor and gets a correct diagnosis. That was eye-opening; I wanted to do something,” she said.
Bringing equal health care opportunities
With 80% of the world’s people who live on less than $1.90 a day located in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, Doctory’s mission is to close the gap between rich and poor when it comes to accessing quality health care. This effort supports both SDG 1, No poverty, and SDG 10, Reduced inequalities.
Today, Maliha’s business has a team of general practitioners and consultants, helping patients access complex medical information across Pakistan and beyond. Maliha also hopes eventually to bring mental and sexual health care to communities that currently have no access. A referral charge for every specialist appointment allows Doctory to sustain its business, allowing patients to save up to 80% in hidden costs according to Maliha.
“Our whole service aims to shorten the time it takes to find the right specialists and give advice quickly. We want to lower costs for the average citizen and bring health care closer to all communities. We’re reducing inequality, especially for women, who are often the ones seeking out information and making calls,” she said.
Maliha plans to take these experiences and solutions beyond Pakistan, creating a global health care system with equality built into its core. Being an entrepreneur takes grit and determination. “Stories like Sakina’s – a chronic backache patient from Sargodha – are what keep me going,” she said. “She visited 20 different doctors in 10 years and still was without a diagnosis – until she started using Doctory.”
In 2015, all 193 United Nations member countries signed on to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to "create the future we want in 2030.” SDGs&Her is an online competition for women entrepreneurs to showcase how they are supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through business leadership.