Telemedicine connects women in the Brazilian Amazon to remote health services
- 21 October 2021
PARÁ, Brazil – Mainara Andrade tries to be diligent about maintaining her health, but access to a gynaecologist has long been a problem in her community.
“I always take the preventive exam for cervical cancer at the health care clinic, and when the results come in, a nurse or a general practitioner would usually analyze them,” said Ms. Andrade. “However, having an appointment with a gynecologist happens only occasionally – just whenever a specialist is in town.”
But all that has changed.
Ms. Andrade, 23, a university student from Bagre in the Marajó Archipelago of the State of Pará, was among the first women in her city to receive a gynaecological check up over the Internet, thanks to a new telemedicine initiative. A health professional accompanied her in the office in her small city in north-eastern Brazil, while a gynecologist examined her from afar. The whole visit took place remotely.
The initiative brought Ms. Andrade several benefits, including agility and comfort during the appointment. “Telemedicine saves us the need to travel to another city just to have an appointment with a gynecologist,” said Ms. Andrade, “especially since not all of us have the financial means to make the trip.”
"I liked it a lot,” she added. “To be honest, the appointment was nice and I felt really good.”
A rewarding appointment
Telemedicine is among the services provided by Saúde das Manas (which translates to Sisters’ Health), a partnership between UNFPA and the Council of Municipal Health Departments of Pará.
Launched in August 2020, the project was intended to increase access to sexual and reproductive health services in the Marajó Archipelago during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it has since been expanded to cover a variety of other medical specialties, including cardiology, endocrinology, psychiatry, paediatrics, urology, pulmonology and dermatology, among others. Even prescriptions can be printed and hand-delivered to the patient.
Saúde das Manas has already delivered telemedicine services to the cities of Afuá, Anajás, Breves, Melgaço and Salvaterra in the Pará State. It will soon arrive in Santa Cruz do Arari, and is expected to reach more than 80,000 women of reproductive age in the Marajó Archipelago.
Regina Lúcia Brandão, 50, is a health agent in the city of Afuá, which lies at the mouth of the Cajari River. She benefited from the project's telemedicine services to treat her myoma, a type of benign tumor of the uterus, and described the long-distance appointment as "rewarding".
"Telemedicine came to help our community, the riverside people, who did not have access to these health professionals," Ms. Brandão said.
Other Saúde das Manas Services
In addition to telemedicine, the project also delivers urgently needed supplies, such as dignity kits with personal hygiene products like soap and menstrual pads, tablets to support the work of primary care coordinators, bicycles to facilitate the movement of community health agents, and personal protective equipment for health professionals. The project also provides condoms, injectable contraceptives and emergency contraceptive pills to the cities.
“With this partnership, our goal is to expand access to health services for all women in the region, which is one of the most marginalized in the country,” said Astrid Bant, UNFPA’s representative in Brazil. “Such actions would help guarantee reproductive rights for everyone, as part of UNFPA's commitment to leave no one behind, especially the most vulnerable.”