In less than one year, workers at hospitals and health centres will get much-needed assistance in the battle against COVID-19, in the hope that this, in turn, will make healthcare more accessible to vulnerable patients.

The help, however, isn’t coming from additional manpower but from robotics and telemedicine systems.

The initiative will be made possible through the India-UN Development Partnership Fund that allowed a US $1 million grant from the government of India to be used in the introduction of these technologies, it was revealed at a launch yesterday.

The project is also being done in conjunction with the Pan American Health Organisation.

“As we move toward learning to live with the presence of the virus, we need to ensure that the gains made early are not lost,” Dr Erica Wheeler, PAHO/WHO Representative to Trinidad and Tobago, said during the event.

The project, according to Dr Wheeler, is set to assist the more vulnerable in society and has three main outcomes.

These include:

(1) Greater access to healthcare through technology, which will focus on the use of telemedicine.

(2) Reduce transmission rates risk in public places.

(3) Greater access to psychological support.

Now, Telemedicine is the remote delivery of healthcare services, including exams and consultations, using the telecommunications infrastructure.

Dr Wheeler said this will protect health professionals and patients, as well as preserve medical resources for the neediest cases.

“The use of telemedicine presents the opportunity to treat with a number of clients at the same time, while limiting the need for physical interaction,” Wheeler said.

The PAHO/WHO representative said the use of robots in the health service is not a new concept and has been used in other countries.

“In terms of the pandemic, the robots can be placed in healthcare locations where the highest numbers of cases are being recorded to capture patient information and other services,” she explained.

The project, which started last month, will receive advisory and technical support from the University of Trinidad and Tobago.

Dr Wheeler said the budget will cover the introduction of eight robots, some of which will be imported. Discussions will take place to decide whether UTT can design and build some of the eight robots.

UTT President, Professor Prakash Persad, said they will assemble a multi-disciplinary team to provide the required support and ensure the project is successful.

“A lot of these projects are in sporting and entertainment, though we did do some work in assistive technologies for medical purposes,” he said.

But he noted that one of the major challenges they will face when they put medical robots in health facilities is the reluctance to accept new technology, something they anticipated and trained for.

“We will see that people have a reluctance for vaccination, they have a bigger reluctance for technology eh,” the professor said.

UN Resident Coordinator to Trinidad and Tobago, Marina Walter, said India’s contribution to this country was particularly generous considering how badly the pandemic affects their own population.

“It embodies what you say the spirit that we see in the UN that we are all in this together,” she said.

Also speaking, India’s High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago, Arun Kuma Sahu, said, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, India has stepped up its humanitarian assistance …I hope that our engagement in various projects in Trinidad and Tobago will only expand.”