The emergence of a vibrant health-tech ecosystem in Nigeria
Editor’s Note: This week’s Thought Leadership article is by Ugonna Ofonagoro, Research Analyst at EpiAFRIC, a public health consultancy firm. She writes about the hackathon that brought together health practitioners and tech experts working together to help address key issues in the health sector with innovative technological applications, and the potential this movement has to help the Nigerian health sector leapfrog.
The Nigerian healthcare system currently faces multiple drawbacks, from inadequacy and lack of infrastructure, personnel, and training, to a lack of efficient public private partnerships (PPP). Partnerships between industries have driven innovations that have propelled the growth in various sectors, such as the banking and telecommunications sectors in Nigeria. Although nascent opportunities for multi-sectoral collaboration are opening in the health space, this growth seems rather slow when compared to other sectors in Nigeria. One area in which these opportunities have traditionally been limited is collaborations between the health and tech sectors. With technology becoming a powerful tool for innovation in the modern world, the convergence of health and tech industries could potentially leapfrog stages of development in Nigeria’s health sector.
Last week, EpiAFRIC in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch and Digital Health Nigeria put together its first “HealthMeetsTech” hackathon, supported by Facebook and held at the Co-Creation Hub in Yaba, Lagos. The need for the hackathon arose from conversations following Nigeria Health Watch’s 2016 Future of Health Conference, also themed “Health Meets Tech.” There was a consensus that beyond discussing the potential of the two sectors meeting, something should be done, and out of that the hackathon emerged.
There was a call for ideas, which was used to generate a shortlist of participants for the hackathon. The call was sent to both health and tech groups. This gave this particular Hackathon a rather unique feel, bringing together health professionals and enthusiasts with technology experts to jointly generate and design innovative solutions that would potentially address key challenges in the health sector.
Five main themes emerged from the shortlisted ideas as key areas where hackathon participants should focus their efforts. These were;
- Access to healthcare
- Health literacy and awareness
- Medical education
- Health financing
Five teams were formed with each team handling one of the themes. Each team had diverse skills consisting of developers, designers, multiple health practitioners, and enthusiasts. They collaborated to build prototypes of technological solutions that could be implemented in the health sector to improve health outcomes for the average Nigerian.
The event kicked off with two panel discussions moderated by Nigeria Health Watch Curator Dr. Ike Anya, to highlight the present realities in the healthcare sector and share stories. The first panel was made up of top medical professionals who highlighted their stories of, and dreams for the Nigerian health sector. They included Dr. Jimi Coker of Lagoon Hospitals, Dr. Douglas Okor of Spine Fixed-Abuja, and Dr. Orode Doherty of Africare. They highlighted to the participants that whatever innovations were to be created must be fit for purpose, user friendly and realistic to the present status of the Nigerian health sector. Bidemi Zakariyau, founder & CEO of LSF|PR, a full service public relations consultancy in Lagos, also spoke on the first panel. She highlighted the importance of understanding the target market if indeed the intended solution will solve a real problem.
.@EzinneAnyanwu shares what she is looking for as a judge in today’s #HealthMeetsTech app challenge competition! @Cc_HUB @DigitalHealthNg pic.twitter.com/WvmftGN9Uw
— Nigeria Health Watch (@nighealthwatch) July 2, 2017
.@EzinneAnyanwu shared what she was looking for as a judge in the #HealthMeetsTech app challenge competition!
The second panel sought to highlight what had worked, existing gaps and the broader health system. Panellists included Dr. Nkechi Olalere of Northbound Consult, Remi Adeseun of QuintileIMS, Temie Giwa-Tubosun of Life Bank and Ezinne Anyanwu of Efferent Services. Giwa-Tubosun highlighted the importance of building tech solutions that will adapt to the way the target end users use information. Also stating the importance of the end users, Anyanwu highlighted key steps for building tech solutions for the health sector. “Start with people first, process second and technology third,” she said, and went on to urge the participants to “build for the future.”
The next day and a half was heated as hackathon participants put in a tremendous amount of hard work into their prototypes, and on Sunday afternoon it was time to present to the panel of judges. The panel was a blend of diverse skill sets from the tech, health and business sectors. The judges were Emeka Afigbo of Facebook, Ezinne Anyanwu of Efferent Services, Dr. Ike Anya of EpiAFRIC, Victor Ohuruogu, an ehealth specialist and Osibo Imohoitsike of TBWA Concepts.
The health tech solutions that were presented included miChoice, a web based contraceptive tool that aims to tackle the problem of contraceptive uptake by providing online consulting and referrals to reliable pharmaceutical stores and reducing the issue of stigma; Msured, an app aimed at solving the problem of health insurance by increasing ease of registration and payment of insurance; BetaMedic, whose solution aimed to address the health literacy challenge in the health sector by providing correct information using Nigerian pidgin language and comical skits; Baby care, which aimed to increase access to immunization services by proving scheduled text message reminders to new mothers to prevent them from missing the critical immunization window; and Swift EC, which aimed to be Nigeria’s first online emergency response system, the “Uber” for health emergencies in Nigeria.
The #HealthMeetsTech Hackathon Challenge was won by Team Swift EC , in second place was Team Babycare, and in third place was Team BetaMedic . The contestants will receive cash prizes, 10% will be given directly to the participants, while 90% is to be channeled into developing their healthtech solutions until they were ready to go to market. The winners will receive mentoring support from Digital Health Nigeria and Co-Creation Hub, as well as continued support from EpiAFRIC and Nigeria Health Watch.
The conversation continues, the most beautiful aspect of this experience has been watching the emergence of collaborations and connections between health practitioners and the tech gurus which we hope will give rise to a vibrant “home-made” Health-Tech Community.
We at EpiAFRIC would like to thank all our panellists for taking time out of their busy schedules to come and inspire our participants. They brought the weight of their passion to bear in their discussions and gave everyone in the room much to think about. Special thanks to our partners; Digital Health Nigeria, Nigeria Health Watch, Co-Creation Hub and Facebook for their passionate support.
Finally, to all who attended, participated or watched via Facebook Live, we say a heartfelt thank you. We at EpiAFRIC were excited to see all the innovative solutions generated and are optimistic that they will become huge successes and solve real life problems within the health sector. We also hope to keep these dynamic conversations going, knowing that in the end, the health sector can only be better for it.