In sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in rural areas, accessing a health clinic isn’t always as simple as it should be. Poor roads can mean a trip to the doctor could be a days-long journey. As a result, several start-ups have launched that bring medical advances directly into the home — or smartphone.
Despite the huge leaps being made in the medical field in Africa, there are still an estimated 3.2 million children living with HIV, with a majority in sub-Saharan Africa. And 90% of the world’s malaria fatalities also come from the region. But it doesn’t mean that Africa is a lost cause.
Mobile technology is emerging as a powerful ally in medical innovation on the continent. As it continues to grow at an exponential rate, a vibrant mobile health — or mHealth — industry is blossoming.
Startups are emerging with one purpose in mind: to create tech solutions for healthcare professionals.
One such company is Access Mobile, founded in Uganda by social entrepreneur Kaak Yelpaala.
After years of working in the public health sector — Yelpaala began his training at Yale University before becoming one of the early employees of the Clinton Health Access Initiative in East Africa — he was inspired to develop his own startup providing mobile tech solutions for the industry he had become so passionate about.
“Access Mobile is a company that builds software solutions for healthcare providers to better improve the health of their patients through mobile phones,” he says.
“Having lived in countries like Tanzania, Kenya, here in Uganda and other parts of the region, what really compelled me was believing that no matter where you live in the world you should be able to access a certin level of care. And technology plays a role in that.”
Cue his first software platform — an app called Clinic Communicator designed to facilitate an easier interaction between doctors and patients in the region.
The web-based platform helps medical professionals communicate with the patients through emails and SMS. Doctors are able to send messages directly to their patients and in the process tackle issues like long waiting times, unnecessary queuing, missed appointments and prescription reminders.
Yelpaala is not the only tech-savvy entrepreneur using mobile technology to reach patients and provide better healthcare. To crack down on counterfeit drugs and medicines in the marketplace, former astrophysicist Bright Simons went back to Ghana and created mPedigree, a simple idea where codes are printed on prescription packaging and customers can check its legitimacy by sending a text message.
Meanwhile, Cameroonian IT specialist Arthur Zang designed “Africa’s first handheld medical computer tablet” last year to provide medical professionals in more rural regions to get cardiac tests results to specialists in a speedier manner.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Yelpaala. It’s been four years since he began his business and he had to provide incentives to peak interest at first. “We have started to get our first customers which has been a great milestone for us. Our first approach was to offer the product on trials and say “use this product”.”
He adds: “What we’re finding now is that we’re already starting to get traction in Kenya. We’re partnering with healthcare facilities there. The thought is that we have to think very big, we have to think Pan-African, and we have to think about how we can innovate for the world.”