If there is one thing the recent pandemic has revealed, it’s that Nigeria’s healthcare sector is in dire need of an intervention. The healthcare sector’s challenges and opportunities are well documented. However, it has been largely ignored by the government, despite its significance to economic growth and wealth creation.
The recent coronavirus pandemic has brought this matter to the fore, with government scrambling to curtail an escalating situation. There are challenges with logistics, technology, hospitals, and quarantine centers, finding enough healthcare workers, and more importantly, carrying out testing at a scale. The shortcomings of the government are laid bare for all to see.
Conversely, there have been several private-sector innovators, albeit on a small scale, doing their bit to solve the myriad of challenges facing the industry. These are young and energetic disruptive innovators leveraging on technology to improve healthcare delivery in the country.
On this week’s Founders Profile, we profile some of these young innovators and entrepreneurs who are disrupting the health care sector in Nigeria. Despite being upstarts, they are perhaps laying the foundation for what a vibrant private sector driven health care sector should be. All that is required is adequate funding and government support via market-friendly policies.
Michael Osahon- Founder, Meditell
If you are the kind of person who forgets to take medications when due, then Meditell is for you.
Meditell is a robust, user-friendly platform which 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.
Straight out of NYSC, where he served as a secondary school teacher in Ijebu-Ode, Michael Osahon founded Meditell. He is a computer science graduate from Covenant University. Besides Meditell, Osahon has employed 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
Many people have died from consuming fake or substandard drugs. But how do medical institutions decipher the right sources for quality medications at fair prices?
Medsaf aims 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. It is supposed to serve as a one-stop-shop for safe medications in Africa, helping health facilities to buy authentic drugs with ease.
At that point, 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.
CEO and founder of Medsaf, Vivian Nwakah, was born and raised in the United States of America, though she schooled in other countries including Paris 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.
Oddly, from her research, she got to understand 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.
Vivian stayed back after her internship, determined to solve this problem. She quit her job in 2016 and pooled her savings. In January 2017, Medsaf was launched.
Medsaf stands 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
Olaniyi Ralph was still a 400 level pharmacy student at the Obafemi Awolowo University in 2014 when he had an epiphany. Having learned the devastating results of wrong drug combinations, interactions, and consumption of expired drugs, he designed an app, GenRx, which had the ability to detect and alert pharmacy owners about drugs nearing their expiration dates, drugs about to be sold in overdose, and wrong drug combinations.
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 all-in-one software thus improves 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.
Over time, it has been improved to manage salaries and expenditures, and generate profit and loss statements of accounts. It now possesses an in-built calculator with three memory banks that can be used during on-going transactions. It can be configured to suit any pharmacy’s needs.
Temie Giwa-Tubosun, Founder of Lifebank
LifeBank was started in May 2012 as One Percent Project or One Percent Blood Donation Enlightenment Foundation. The target was to end blood shortage in Nigeria by enlightening people on the importance to overcome their fears, prejudices, and myths, and donate blood for anyone in need.
In 2016, it became Lifebank, a business set up to improve access to blood transfusions in Nigeria. A personal experience during her first child-birth drove her to build this dream, so that people would no longer have to suffer complications from delayed blood donations.
Since then, Lifebank has helped deliver hundreds of thousand of pints of blood to patients in Nigeria, and has now extended to other medical products like oxygen, vaccines, and blood products.
Tubosun is a graduate fellow from the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, and also a fellow with the Global Health Corps.
She had carried out millennium village projects in rural areas in Africa, under the United Nations Development Programme and Millennium Promise, and also worked briefly with Fairview Health Services in Minnesota, after graduating from Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.
Adeloye Olanrewaju- Founder of Safermom & Babymigo
Adeloye has a Bachelor’s degree in Human physiology from the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology. He was observing the one-year compulsory national service in 2015 at the Ekiti State Primary Healthcare Board when he noticed a problem he had first seen during his internship.
“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,” he later explained.
Safermom was developed as a mobile service for pregnant and nursing mothers of 0-3-year old babies, to access health information and make informed health decisions. This is achieved through voice calls, mobile SMS, helplines, and a mobile app. It also helps mothers track milestones in pregnancy and nursing, including vaccination dates, and shares prevention tips, and home remedies. Mothers 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 innovation earned 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.
In 2015, SaferMom was listed among the top 6 startups in Africa, scooping $50,000 USD in the Impact category of Facebook’s Internet.org competition.
Two years after, 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.
(READ MORE: Tech Roundup S02E16)
Adereti Francis- Founder Redbank
In a country where countless lives have been lost due to the non-availability of blood, the importance of Redbank can hardly be exaggerated.
Adereti Francis (Business Lead and developer) founded Redbank, a startup that connects 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). The goal, they said, was to save more lives by helping Nigerians find blood fast and safely.
Francis Adereti got his first degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from Obafemi Awolowo University and later obtained an MBA from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. His work experience cuts across Huawei Technologies, iQube labs, and Microsoft, among others.
This varied experience geared 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 to, they have phone lines and SMS services so that people who do not have access to the internet can still reach them.
Talk about a problem that solves it all!
Redbank also harmonised the databases of hospitals and health clinics, especially those whose records are still in the ‘paper era.’
The target 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.’ It also has outreaches on several media to recruit more donors and ensure an adequate supply of all blood groups.
Charles Onu- Founder, Ubenwa
If you were told that a baby’s cries could communicate as clearly as words, your first reaction might have been, “Impossible!” but not anymore.
Ubenwa, literally translated, means baby’s cry in Igbo language. It is an application that 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.
Ultimately, the aim 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.
Charles has a Bachelor’s degree in Electronic and Computer Engineering, and MSc and Ph.D. in Computer Science – Machine Learning from McGill University. He is a fellow of the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation.
(READ MORE: TechRoundUp Season 2 Episode 15)
Ola Orekunrin Brown- Founder, Flying Doctors Nigeria
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 Kindom 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 MSc in Finance and Economic Policy.
Hote: Are there any notable names we may have missed? Kindly send an email to the author or to [email protected] Also feel free to drop a comment.