Dec 10 - 16, 2007

Realising the importance of Information technology (IT), which has assumed unprecedented importance in the global economic arena, the Government of Pakistan (GoP) has evolved an effective national IT Policy and Action Plan that clearly cater to the needs of nurturing the industry and is responsive to the dynamic forces of change that can affect its future growth.

Although, the GoP had taken various initiative to promote IT culture in the country, but still a lot is to be done at be at par with other developed countries. In Pakistan, we are lagging behind from other developed countries as far as medical science is concerned. In health sector, a revolution could be made, if IT applications are used in health sector. The tele-medicine, tele-surgery, video conferencing and computerized data of patients had provided much support to the health professionals in the west but in Pakistan, the tele-medicine and tele-surgery are in infancy stage, Prof Dr Khalid Masood Gondal, Regional Director, College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan (CPSP) told Pakistan and Gulf Economist (PAGE).

Prof Gondal said video conference system is in vogue in all the teaching hospitals while a lot more is to be done to promote the concepts of tele-medicine and tele-surgery for the ultimate benefit of patients. He said efforts needs to be made to promote the culture of consultation through computer among the patients and health professionals.

Giving details, Prof Gondal said: "Telemedicine is the use of telecommunications technology to provide medical information and services. It involves the transfer of electronic medical data (i.e. high resolution images, sounds, live video and patient records) from one location to another. This transfer of medical data utilizes a variety of telecommunication technology, including telephone lines, the internet, CD-ROMs and voice response systems. Telemedicine is utilized by health providers in a growing number of medical specialties including dermatology, oncology, radiology, surgery, cardiology, psychiatry, gynaecology and home health care".

According to him, Telemedicine works in two ways. The first method is regarded as Store and Forward Telemedicine whereby the patient's medical information is collected locally (stored) and then transferred to a qualified doctor (forward) in any part of the world; a response can usually take about 24 to 48 hours. The other technique is known as Real Time Telemedicine where the patient's data is available to the specialist as soon as the local doctor receives the information; this method uses video conferencing technology and live data transmission.

Prof Gondal said the concept of Telemedicine is highly essential in developing countries like Pakistan that lack basic health care infrastructure. Pakistan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, yet the number of doctors are inadequate when compared to the number of patients. Keeping in mind the health scenario in Pakistan, one can clearly see the importance of Telemedicine in providing specialized health services to the people of remote areas who have long been neglected, especially, the women and children who often sacrifice their health care.

He further said that teleconsulting has heretofore represented the pinnacle of achievement in telemedicine applications. Its use in the fields of radiology and pathology has stimulated the development of specific guidelines regarding the minimum and suggested interface requirements for reliable interpretation of transmitted patient information. In other disciplines, minimum requirements for the telecommunications interface remain to be defined. However, teleconsulting with telesurgical presence should include high speed, uninterrupted transmission, similarity of operating room environments with necessary instruments previously agreed upon and an absence of language barriers between the consultant and the operating team, he added. Utilizing these criteria expert telesurgical consultation has been provided for even complex surgical problems.

He said telemanagement of a patient assumes that the central physician has evaluated the patient, and/or patient data, concurrently with the management activity. Because it involves a level of physician-patient interaction comparable to, or more intense than teleconsulting, telemanagement requires that a remote health care provider, who is familiar with, and capable of using the telecommunications interface equipment, is present with the patient, or that the patient has been instructed in the mechanics of, and is capable of applying the diagnostic and telecommunications instrumentation necessary to provide clinical information to the central site physician.

Talking about telesurgery(remote surgery), Prof Dr Gondal who is himself a leading Surgeon said: Surgery, procedure or intervention performed on an inanimate trainer, animate model, or patient, in which the surgeon or operator is not at the immediate site of the model or patient being operated upon. Visualization and manipulation of the tissues and equipment is performed using tele-electronic devices.

Computerised Investigation Laboratory- With a view to tracing the records/cases of heinous crime including kidnapping for ransom, the first Computerised Investigation Laboratory (CIL) formally started its operation in Pakistan. The lab had been set up in the office of the deputy inspector general (investigation) at Investigation Headquarters. There were three similar labs under construction in Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta. "The Executive Committee of National Economic Council (ECNEC) had approved the project in February 2002. About Rs 1.4 billion were being spent on the labs' construction out of which Rs 52 million were given by Japan."

According to DIG (Investigation), Mr. Tassaduq Hussain, the Police Department was being equipped with modern technology to help it fight organised crime. The lab would help the police in tracing and catching criminals involved in serious crime, especially kidnappings and subversive activities. After computerisation, investigation would be carried out with the help of electronic equipment. He said three mobile forensic laboratories had been prepared and that they would preserve basic evidence at crime scenes. The lab would concentrate on metal erasure, photography, toxicology, fingerprinting, handwriting and firearms, while DNA testing would be a separate entity.

About metal erasure, a police official said it would help protect citizens from buying stolen vehicles, as this method would detect tampering with the chassis or engine numbers. He said the toxicology unit would deal with poisons and crime related to death by poisoning. He said the unit would take specimens and study them to ascertain how the person died. He said the fingerprinting unit would record fingerprints and trace out criminals by taking their fingerprints from crime scenes.

Talking about the IT Policy, analysts said the guiding theme for the IT policy is that 'the government shall be the facilitator and enabler to encourage the private sector to drive the development in IT and telecommunications'. The vision of the policy is to harness the potential of information technology as an essential contributor to the development of Pakistan and the broad-based involvement of the essential stakeholders is a must for its sustainable development.

They said Human resource (HR) development is imperative for the local IT industry to position the country as an important player in the international IT market. Under the HR Action Plan, a large pool of academically as well as technically skilled IT manpower would be developed to meet the local and export needs. The policy accordingly envisages the establishment of four new IT universities, virtual IT university, national testing and accreditation services and educational Internet, strengthening of existing IT institutes and hiring of faculty from abroad. A major portion of the funds under the IT Action Plan would be dedicated towards HR development initiatives.

They further said the local IT industry requires a world class enabling infrastructure. An exercise for deployment of this infrastructure has been undertaken, a series of IT parks, and incubators across the country are being established. These parks will be equipped with modern facilities and matchless incentives, to provide a one-stop shop for prospective investors in the IT industry. Other steps include the establishment of IT boards in provinces (except Punjab where it exists already), increasing tele density and the introduction of new technologies such as wireless local loop for data and cable Internet.

They further said software development is a high growth industry and forms a major segment of the vast IT market and will continue to do so in the future. Integrated efforts to develop software industry with focus on exports (in addition to the local market) are being undertaken. This would include encouragement of local software houses to participate in government projects, local content development, Urdu and regional language software development, promotion of software exports through establishment of international marketing network, special bandwidth rates for software exporters, encouraging joint ventures, hiring of international consultants for global business development and fiscal and regulatory incentives for software exporters through the State Bank of Pakistan.

They further said that with increasing use of Information Technology in the public sector, Pakistan's information technology sector is growing at a rate far faster then ever before, at a phenomenal 50% year-on-year. Pakistan's IT sector is comprised of more than 900 IT & ITeS companies, of which more than 125 are either ISO certified or CMMI appraised. The IT industry in Pakistan is estimated to be US $2 billion per year with almost $1 billion of it being export related, they added.

According to analysts, big private sector organizations are using state-of-the-art IT solutions as IT usage in the business sector in Pakistan has proliferated and even small establishments today are using IT for competitive advantage. Nevertheless, use of IT in the public sector has also grown significantly and the IT spending by both the federal and provincial governments has registered a healthy growth. Citizen services like online Income Tax filings, computerized national ID card, electronic gateway to Pakistan Customs, database on poverty alleviation at Pakistan Baitul Mal, have already made a remarkable difference and passed the benefit of IT enabled services to all strata of society.

Moreover, the Punjab government has launched a pilot project of computerization of prisoners' record and District Jail, Lahore has been chosen by the Home Department to begin with this scheme. This project would help in keeping an up-to-date data of all prisoners and their crimes, sources in the Punjab Government told PAGE.