Health tech pins hope on Africa’s pandemic shift to online care
When Loveth Metiboba's baby had diarrhoea, she worried that taking him to a clinic near her home in Nigeria's capital, Abuja, might expose them both to the coronavirus.
"The idea of going to the clinic was very scary," said Metiboba, a researcher for a charity.
Instead, the clinic, run by Nigerian health technology firm eHealth Africa, sent her a web browser link to hold a video chat with a doctor who diagnosed her son with a mild illness and prescribed medicine to avoid dehydration.
Across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated changes in the way medicine is practised as medical care increasingly begins with an online consultation rather than a face-to-face meeting.
But the opportunities in Africa, where access to medical care is often restricted, are transformational and offer growth prospects to companies that provide online consultations and online sales of medicine.
Mukul Majmudar, chief executive of CureCompanion, which developed the online platform Metiboba used, said the Texas-based company had seen a 12-fold increase in business in Africa this year from 2019.
That compares with a 10-fold rise in online medicine across all seven countries - Armenia, Honduras, India, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and the United States, as well as Nigeria - where it is present.
Helium Health, a Nigerian company that specialises in digitising medical records, brought forward to February the launch of its online consultation platform, which had been planned for later in the year, to meet demand resulting from the pandemic.
In May, it raised $10 million from investors, including Chinese technology giant Tencent.
Helium Health's CEO Adegoke Olubusi said dozens of hospitals and clinics had subscribed to the service.
They include a private clinic in the Victoria Island business district of Lagos.
It is run by doctor Ngozi Onyia, who said she had signed up for a 150,000 naira ($394.22) monthly subscription with Helium Health and that most of the clinic's patients had opted for online consultations, referred to as telemedicine, within weeks of Nigeria's first cases of the novel coronavirus.