As COVID-19 spread across the globe in 2020, medical facilities in Africa, as elsewhere, were overwhelmed, creating patient backlogs for non-COVID cases. The situation created a gap in medical services provision that tech companies, such as healthcare consulting company Innovarx Global Health (IGH) in the Gambia, have been working to fill.
Dr. Ismail D. Badjie, a trained nuclear pharmacist, founded IGH in the United States in 2015. The interconnected business-to-business healthcare delivery system provides mobile healthcare services, point-of-care diagnostics and pharmacy retail operation and distribution, as well as telemedicine and teletherapy.
In 2019 Dr. Badjie returned to Gambia, where he had spent his childhood, and opened an IGH franchise in Kanifing Municipality in the Greater Banjul area.
“We want someone’s grandmother in a village in the Gambia to have the same quality of life and access to healthcare they deserve as someone in New York or London,” Dr. Badjie said of his motivation to return to the country, where, according to WHO, there is one physician per every 10,000 individuals.
How does it work?
Dr. Badjie explains: “A perfect example of how our technology works is our W.O.W [Wellness on Wheels] in house-visit we offer to patients. Our team of clinicians is able to make it to a patient’s home and use portable point-of-care devices to conduct rapid tests such as hemoglobin, cholesterol, diabetes HbA1c and blood samples for kidney function and metabolic testing, etc.”
“All of these results are integrated to our Agastha cloud-based Electronic Medical Record system instantaneously, enabling our consulting doctors, who are located anywhere in the world, the ability to make a clinical intervention or have a telemedicine consultation while the team is bedside at the patient’s home. Any medications that are needed are also digitally transmitted to our in-house pharmacy, which then prepares and deploys the order to the patient’s home,” he explains.
In 2020 IGH experienced tremendous growth, servicing over 5,000 patients and 180 subscription care plan members. Additionally, the company reached over 2,000 Gambians for free diabetes and hypertension screening.
IGH’s point-of-care diagnostics have also been merged with the Gambian national infrastructure to provide rapid biochemistry testing for COVID-19.
“The pandemic has shown the world that healthcare can no longer exist without technology,” says Dr. Badjie.
“The marriage between healthcare and technology has created a world without borders and has opened doors for global collaborations and implementation of best practices that the continent stands to benefit significantly from.”
This is where IGH aims to make an impact on the Gambia’s healthcare system, with its mobile clinical services, telemedicine for patients with non-communicable diseases and use of a cloud-based Electronic Health Record system, so a patient’s lab results and interventions can be accessed from anywhere there is an internet connection.
Dr. Badjie says that although there are challenges with the internet in the Gambia, only a few minor disruptions occur because there is a good fiberoptic network in the country. The system is backed up through the 4G network, which has significant penetration in the country.
“I think the impact [of IGH] is huge,” Dr. Badjie says. “We are the first in many aspects of healthcare delivery in the Gambia. Our infusion of technology has changed the way people consume healthcare and has alleviated the constant need for patients to seek medical tourism for management of chronic conditions that we now can offer at IGH.”
Potential for telehealth growth?
The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, affirms that the shift to virtual healthcare has been a global one that has caught on in countries such as India, Italy and China due to the emergence of COVID-19.
The US federal health agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also cites the growth of telehealth due to the pandemic, stating that changes in healthcare delivery are necessary to minimize the risk of COVID-19 to both practitioners and patients.
It is yet to be seen how prevalent this current trend will be on the African continent, however, the potential for using healthcare technology to save lives is promising.
For Dr. Badjie’s part, the plan is to grow IGH beyond the Gambia.
“We created IGH to be a sustainable incubator for value-driven solutions that can reach every corner of the continent using technologies available in developed countries,” explains Dr. Badjie.
Such technologies not only help overcome barriers such as transportation, but also enable digital healthcare networks for home medical check-ups and telehealth screenings for diseases. They could also help in the fight against fake drugs by ensuring the purchase of genuine pharmaceuticals, given that, according to WHO, Africa accounts for 42 per cent of the world’s counterfeit pharmaceutical cases.