By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
Without any iota of doubts, the current Coronavirus pandemic has exposed the underbelly of our porous and precarious healthcare system. The pandemic has exposed years of serial neglect of the health sector by successive administrations.
No serious society pays lip-service to its healthcare system without dire consequences. The healthcare sector’s challenges and opportunities are well documented and known for decades but successive administrations have paid lip-service with allocation dwindling year in year out to our peril. But this deficiency and gaps in our healthcare have received little or no attention until recent coronavirus pandemic which has brought this matter to the fore, with government scrambling to curtail an escalating situation.
It is very much irony that in the face of governments at various levels neglect of healthcare, there have been several private-sector innovators, though not on grand scale doing a wonderful thing to remedy already bad situation. These new kids on the block are very young, energetic; they have proved to be disruptive innovators who have been using technology and the digital revolution to improve healthcare delivery in the country.
Despite being new as upstarts, they have been laying the foundation for an ideal, vibrant private sector driven health care sector. Below are the disruptors of the old inefficient order, and initiators of the changes in the healthcare delivery.
Michael Osahon, Founder, Meditell
Everybody needs their services, and if you happen to be the kind of person who has developed the habit of forgetting to take medications when due, then Meditell is for you. This is a robust, user-friendly app which clinically schedules reminders for patients and their caregivers, to ensure adherence to medication schedules.
By using mobile phones, ‘Meditext’ and ‘Medicall’ set reminders for drug administration.
Michael Osahon who straight out of NYSC, where he served as a secondary school teacher in Ijebu-Ode, founded Meditell to fill in the gap which hugely existed until then in the administration of healthcare delivery.
A brilliant computer science graduate from Covenant University, Osahon has put to use his product development skills to develop business applications for Stanbic IBTC Pension Managers and GTBank. Among other things, he is a Senior Software Engineer with Ernst and Young.
Vivian Nwakah, Founder/CEO, Medsaf
The prevalence of fake and counterfeit drug is well documented, so is its danger to health and healthcare delivery in the country.
Many Nigerians have met their untimely deaths as a result of the consumption of fake and counterfeit drugs. But how do medical institutions decipher the right sources for quality medications at fair prices? This has proved to be the biggest challenge until Medsaf arrived on the scene.
Medsaf’s primary goal is to give hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies access to high-quality medication from manufacturers at affordable costs, thereby reducing incidences of complications arising from fake or substandard drugs administered to patients.
Designed as one-stop-shop for safe medications in Africa, helping health facilities to buy authentic drugs with ease she was spurred into finding a solution to this challenge which is affecting healthcare delivery. Vivian decided that a solution was needed. There had to be a way to ensure that health facilities managed their supplied inventories and purchased products from reputable global sources and production companies.
Vivian Nwakah, came from a privileged background as she was born and bred in the United States of America, but she had her education in other countries including France and China. She once recounted how she conceived the idea of Medsaf after losing her friend to fake medications during a 3-month internship in Nigeria.
“It was a moment of great sadness but I was also filled with shame. I was coming from the U.S where I was born and raised, and I had worked in healthcare agencies. There, it was about keeping elderly patients, even in their 80s and 90s alive with quality healthcare, but here, someone my age had died due to fake malaria pill,” she recalled.
From the foundry of her research, she realised that global manufacturers were afraid of sending their products to Nigeria because they did not want their brands compromised by counterfeits. This reluctance on their part gave counterfeit producers a lot of room to operate.
She decided to stay back after her internship, and was determined to solve this problem. She quit her job in 2016 and pooled her savings. In January 2017, Medsaf was launched.
Since then Medsaf has stood as a middleman, verifying producers and manufacturers before listing their medications, and also verifying health facilities before allowing them to make any purchase. This ensures protection from both ends, leaving the end consumer better for it.
Olaniyi Ralph- Founder GenRx
It is not a common thing these days for a struggling undergraduate to come into the deep idea that could change or affect the major direction of a sector of the economy. But as an undergraduate, Olaniyi Ralph had a kind of epiphany as a 400-level pharmacy student at the Obafemi Awolowo University in 2014.
Having learned the negative consequences of wrong drug combinations, interactions, and consumption of expired drugs, he went thinking and came up with an interesting idea that led him to design an app, GenRx, which could detect and alert pharmacy owners about drugs nearing their expiration dates, drugs about to be sold in overdose, and wrong drug combinations.
From this flash of an idea, he went on to co-found AGC Nigeria which became the platform to launch GenRx – a POS application designed to help pharmacies and hospitals manage their drug inventories and accounts.
This omnibus, all-in-one app has proved effective in improving efficiency in sales processing and safety in dispensing medications. It also automatically calculates customers’ payments and balances, keeps daily records of items sold, salespersons on duty, and manages product reorders, ensuring that they do not run out of stock.
It has been able to improve overall efficiency, manage salaries and expenditures, and generate profit and loss statements of accounts. One interesting fact about the software is that it has an in-built calculator with three memory banks that can be used during on-going transactions. This can be configured to any pharmacy’s needs.
Temie Giwa-Tubosun, Founder of Lifebank
LifeBank has an interesting beginning in 2012 when it was founded as One Percent Blood Donation Enlightenment Foundation. The aim of Giwa Tunbosun the founder was to bring to an abrupt close, the regime of blood shortage in Nigeria by giving people the necessary information and therapy on the need to overcome their fears, prejudices, and myths, and donate blood for anyone in need.
Within a space of four years, it became Lifebank in 2016. It has now become a big project to improve access to blood transfusions in Nigeria.
According to accounts, bitter personal experience in her first child-birth was the spur she needed to build this dream, so that people would no longer have to suffer complications from delayed blood donations, as she did during her childbirth.
From this humble beginning, the project has assisted in delivering hundreds of thousands of pints of blood to patients in Nigeria. One good thing is that it has since branched out to other medical products like oxygen, vaccines, and blood products.
Tubosun, the whizkid behind it, is a graduate fellow from the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, and also a fellow with the Global Health Corps.
Reputed to have carried out millennium village projects in rural areas in Africa, under the United Nations Development Programme and Millennium Promise, she had also worked briefly with Fairview Health Services in Minnesota, after graduating from Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
In 2019, Lifebank took home the first annual prize of $250,000 cash prize from the Jack Ma owned Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI).
Adeloye Olanrewaju- Founder of Safermom & Babymigo
This young whizkid attended Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Human physiology.
In 2015 at the Ekiti State Primary Healthcare Board, where he was undergoing compulsory national service, he observed a problem he had first seen during his internship.
He once said, “I realized mothers and babies weren’t getting the psychological, social, and mental support they needed. Nigeria presently contributes 13-15% of global maternal and child deaths yearly. Out of the 7.2 million birth rates recorded yearly (Unicef 2014 estimate), we lose 260,000 newborns annually. Unfortunately, most cases are preventable when there’s increased access to basic health services.”
Safermom was designed as a one-stop solution mobile service for pregnant and nursing mothers of 0-3-year old babies, to access health information and make informed health decisions.
How is this achieved? This is done through voice calls, mobile SMS, help-lines, and a mobile app. It also assists mothers to track milestones in pregnancy and nursing, including vaccination dates, and shares prevention tips, and home remedies.
They can also dial a short code to access vital health information, government schemes, and important announcements in their local languages, and request tricycles or ambulances.
This breakthrough innovation brought Adeloye an award from Her Majesty, the Queen of England at Buckingham Palace for his works in improving mother and child health in Sub-Sahara Africa. He’s also a St. Gallen Leader of Tomorrow, TEEP fellow, International Action Youth Net fellow, and Leap Africa Social Innovator fellow, among others.
SaferMom was in 2015 listed among the top six startups in Africa, getting USD 50,000 in the Impact category of Facebook’s Internet.org competition.
Two years later, Adeloye launched Babymigo, a community for the new generation of young parents to find trusted information in local African contexts, get their questions answered, and connect with nearby moms and experts. It has since been successful and among major hitec health interventions of recent.
Adereti Francis- Founder Redbank
Redbank like many other startups in blood donation business has made its impact on saving lives. This intervention has been crucial in a country where many have died due to the non-availability of blood.
He founded it as a startup that acts as a link or connector of hospitals and patients to the nearest blood banks, in 2014. He had support from co-founders, Adeyanju Toluwanimi (Operations Lead), and Ojediran Tunde (Technical Lead). Their objective, according to them, was to save more lives by helping Nigerians find blood fast and safely.
Adereti studied Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Obafemi Awolowo University and later scrambled together an MBA from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His work experience spans Huawei Technologies, iQube labs, and Microsoft, among others.
This rich pedigree prepared him towards product innovation, product management, business operations, and strategy, all of which came in handy when Redbank was founded.
Redbank has a network of blood banks and hospitals on its radar, helping patients and their families to find the needed blood types closest to their locations, within a short time. Compared to the traditional way of calling several blood banks to find a match, this is a great leap, which has saved the lives of people in emergencies such as accidents, surgeries, and childbirth.
To ensure that all levels of Nigerians are catered for, they have phone lines and SMS services so that people who do not have access to the internet can still reach them. Remarkably, this startup has been successful in synergizing the databases of hospitals and health clinics, especially those whose records are still in the ‘paper era.’
The aim is to build a donor database so that proper records can prevent people from donating when they are not eligible to make donations, and save their lives with these ‘electronic reminders.’
Charles Onu- Founder, Ubenwa
Imagine being told that a baby’s cries could communicate as clearly as words, your first reaction might have been, “Impossible!” but the reality is that it is. Interestingly, Ubenwa, which in the Igbo language means baby’s cry, has come to be a helpful app developed by Onu.
This application captures a baby’s cry, translates it and makes a prognosis on what the problem could be. The result could be as simple as hunger, sleep, pain, or an early symptom of a life-long disability such as cerebral palsy, deafness, and paralysis.
Even birth asphyxia, which is the third-highest cause of infant mortality, can be detected early enough to prevent any damage to the child’s brain or infant death. Onu says his aim in setting up the app is to provide optimal care for babies and address early health challenges within the first two years of a child’s life. But how accurate can this be?
According to Onu, the Artificial Intelligence solution app has achieved over 95% prediction accuracy in trials with nearly 1,400 pre-recorded baby cries.
This innovation has won several awards, including the WHO Top 30 Africa Health Innovators in March 2019.
He has a Bachelor’s degree in Electronic and Computer Engineering, and M.sc and PhD in Computer Science – Machine Learning from McGill University. He is a fellow of the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation.
Ola Orekunrin Brown- Founder, Flying Doctors
Ola Orekunrin, is a medical doctor and helicopter pilot. She started the Flying Doctors Nigeria (FDN) as a young 21-year-old graduate.
Just like Nwakah’s Medsafe, FDN was spurred by personal experience, when Ola lost her younger sister due to a delay in finding an air ambulance service in Nigeria. Similarly, Ola was born and bred out of the shores of Nigeria, in the United Kingdom to be precise, though she occasionally visited relatives in the country.
FDN is a medical emergency service that specialises in making air ambulance services, medico-logistics services, remote site medical solutions services, medical infrastructural development, and medical training services available in critical areas of need.
Flying Doctors is the first ambulance company in West Africa and boasts of 20 charter aircraft in good condition, with services that are cheaper than ground ambulance services.
Ola has, since then, taken certificate courses in Accounting and Economics at IESE and the University of Michigan respectively, to help her better manage the FDN. She has also obtained an M.sc in Finance and Economic Policy.