The first COVID-19 case in Nigeria was recorded on February 27, 2020. Since then, the pandemic has affected all sectors of the country, most especially, the health sector. The World Bank in March 2020, noted that, for the poorest countries, the full danger of the pandemic is just coming into view because they would face the crisis from a position of profound disadvantage, which include fragile health system and tenuous access to medical supplies. This is seemingly the case of Nigeria, where the Nigerian Medical Association (MBA) has lamented the one doctor to six thousand people formula, and according to a Premium Times article, nine in every ten doctors in the country are considering job opportunities abroad, making Nigeria the country most affected by immigration of doctors.
Since the conventional medical solutions in the country are not currently helping matters, it is time Nigeria sought other innovative ways of ensuring cost-effective and timely healthcare solutions to its citizenry. This calls for urgent exploration of technology in the health sector though the use of digital medicine or telemedicine or telehealth. Telemedicine is basically the distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies (ICT). It allows long-distance patient and clinician contact, care, advice, reminders, education, intervention, monitoring, and remote admissions. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), telemedicine is particularly beneficial for rural and underserved communities in developing countries.
The merits of telemedicine abound. It helps to lighten the burden on hospitals and the entire healthcare system. It helps with social distancing, and also helps hospitals provide quality care to more people at a cost-effective rate. According to a CNBC March 2020 news article titled ‘What America can learn from China’s use of robots and telemedicine to combat the coronavirus,’ telemedicine, in most part of the world, is currently finding new demands in the face of the pandemic. The Economist summarised it all in its March 2020 article titled ‘The smartphone will see you now’ noted that millions of Chinese, cooped up and anxious, now turn to online doctors. The article stated that, “Even after the covid-19 epidemic, many will continue to favour internet hospitals.”
There are currently a few telemedicine companies or hospitals exploring telemedical technologies in Nigeria, and they are playing their respective roles within their capacities to make the citizenry healthy. However, for the purpose of this reflection, I would dwell on one of the leading telemedicine companies in Nigeria. On the other hand, this company would be a point of reference to the others. MobiHealth International is a digital healthcare company founded by a Nigerian UK-based medical doctor, Funmi Adewara. Since its inception in 2017, the company has been playing important roles in the Nigerian healthcare system. By leveraging futuristic mobile technology and a secured Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)—a United States law designed to provide privacy standards to protect patients—MobiHealth, in the last two years, has been tackling multiple barriers to access and delivery of quality healthcare in the country and Africa.
Its mode of service delivery, which has been endorsed by the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) in line with the Commission’s goal for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), is an Afrocentric model that ensures that people have access to health services at a cost-effective rates and a on a timely basis.
With the explosive increase in the number of Nigeria’s mobile phone subscribers that has surpassed 180 million, according to a 2020 report by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), and also with MobiHealth’s partnership with 9Mobile and MTN, the telemedical company is steadfastly bring healthcare solutions to the doorsteps of many Nigerians.
Dr Funmi Adewara, a University of Ibadan and a Cambridge trained medical doctor, noted that the quality of doctors and the database of more than a hundred thousand certified multilingual experts across various specialities—which are readily accessible through MobiHealth’s Consult App, obtainable through iOS and Android stores—plus the low-cost fast internet services are some of the unique propositions that set MobiHealth apart from competitors.
She also noted that before the end of 2020, MobiHealth would be deploying telehealth clinics across some states in the country, adding that, “It’s no longer defensible that millions of people should continue to die from preventable causes when the technology exists to change the dismal narrative.”
Furthermore, late last year, Dr Adewara stated that MobiHealth has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with some Nigerian state governments and organisations to help them with their healthcare needs. If MobiHealth that is registered in the UK and in Nigeria, and is currently planning of incorporating its business in Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, etc., is blazing the trail in African telehealth, it is a sign that more Nigerians should embrace its services.
The fact still remains that the COVID-19 is still here in Nigeria, but it would soon go away. What would the future of Nigeria’s health system and economy look like after the pandemic is gone? The World Bank’s Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnership, Mari Elka Pangestu, in her UK Telegraph article give an insight of how some countries are faring during this pandemic period. Pangestu noted that countries that remain globally integrated would be best placed to respond effectively in the short term—and to recover more quickly in the medium term, adding that, “We will come out much stronger if we all work together with a clear focus on the future.”
As long as the Nigerian health system is concerned, the future Pangestu was referring to is now, and digital technology is here in this future, and MobiHealth is one of the telemedical companies that are out there to making that future a better place for Nigerians and Africans.
Dr Adewara recently noted that telemedicine could help resolve sixty per cent of medical concerns and their solutions target primary healthcare where seventy per cent of medical issues are addressed. She further noted that telemedicine has been proven to be cost and time effective solution and that the COVID-19 pandemic has proven its usefulness and the willingness of Nigerians to embrace it.
Alumona writes from Ibadan