How Funmi Adewara’s Mobihealth won $1m grant to expand healthcare in Africa

[Tribune Online] How Funmi Adewara’s Mobihealth won $1m grant to expand healthcare in Africa

DR Funmi Adewara is in the news again — this time, for a feat bigger and prestigious than the others she and her company had accomplished.

Adewara, a Nigerian-British medical doctor, educated at the University of Ibadan (MBBS) and the University of Cambridge (Master’s in Bioscience Enterprise), has over the years used Mobihealth International — a telemedicine company she founded in November 2017 — to impact the lives and health of Nigerians and Africans in ways that have won her awards and placed her in a global pedestal.

She told Saturday Tribune in an October 2019 Interview that she was inspired to study Medicine as a result of some health challenges she experienced as a child that made her a frequent visitor at hospitals where she met doctors who would later mentor her as she developed an interest in studying Medicine.

“The sights of patients in the out-patient department, accident and emergency, and wards were pitiable,” she had lamented. “The wailings of bereaved mothers, the groaning of those in pain and the vulnerability of their situation inspired me to study medicine.”

From studying Medicine, to becoming a medical doctor, and to founding Mobihealth, Adewara has remained steadfast in her passion to ensuring that ordinary people, especially those in underserved and underprivileged communities, have easy and affordable access to basic healthcare services.

Recently, for her work and advocacy in medical-related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), she secured — through Mobihealth — a $1m grant from the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), an agency of the United States (US) government, through the African Investment Forum (AIF) of the African Development Bank (AfDB), to carry out feasibility studies in line with future expansion across other African countries such as Ghana, Egypt, Cote D’Ivoire, and Kenya.

This US-Nigeria project aims to build Mobihealth’s telehealth services model in Nigeria with an effort to strengthen healthcare access for 100,000 individuals per year across Africa.

Two other Nigerian healthcare providers — Cedarcrest Hospitals and Lily Hospitals — were among the beneficiaries of the USTDA grant.

According to the Agency, Cedarcrest Hospitals will support the development of a comprehensive cancer treatment centre in Abuja through the provision of diagnosis and treatment services for up to 1,000 patients per year. Furthermore, Lily Hospitals will support the refurbishment and operation of ten healthcare facilities across Nigeria, serving up to 25,000 patients annually.

According to USTDA, the Agency’s assistance to Mobihealth advances one of the key pillars of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, which aims to strengthen global health security through investments in patient-centered health services. The project also advances the US government’s Prosper Africa initiative to substantially increase two-way trade and investment between the US and Africa.

Speaking at the grant-signing ceremony, hosted by the US Embassy on the 17th October, 2022, the Agency’s Director, Enoh T. Ebong, stated that the USTDA’s assistance would support the deployment of innovative ICT solutions in the healthcare space across the continent, particularly in rural areas, which traditionally do not have expansive healthcare networks.

“Our support for Mobihealth reflects USTDA’s commitment to advancing healthcare infrastructure in partnership with overseas partners and U.S. industry,” Ebong added.

In her remarks, Adewara stated that the USTDA’s funding come at the perfect time and that the grant would enable them to expand the scope of their integrated telehealth, Electronic Medical Records (EMR), and digitalisation services to other African markets over the next few years as they aim to tackle deficiencies, particularly in primary healthcare (PHC) across Africa.

She noted that the majority of the African population live in rural areas where access to basic healthcare services are scanty and compounded by the shortage of medical doctors, nurses, and other allied health professionals.

“We have had the privilege of demonstrating the impact of our integrated telehealth solutions working over the past 18 months with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, some PHCs, the Nigerian Air Force, amongst others,” she added. “We are now working to scale services to the last mile in Nigeria and other African countries, leaving no one behind.”

Chinelo Anohu, the Senior Director of the Africa Investment Forum stated that the awarding of the grant to Mobihealth is a welcome manifestation of the MoU signed between the USTDA and AIF one year ago to deliver high-quality infrastructure solutions to sub-Saharan Africa.

“We now need to apply our collective capacities to secure full-financing for the regional expansion of its telehealth service,” Anohu said.

Appreciating the contributions of USTDA to Nigeria’s healthcare, Dr Osagie Ehanire, the Nigerian Minister of Health, noted that his ministry also supported the initiative.

He added that Cedarcrest Hospitals, Lily Hospitals, and Mobihealth would be equipped with more tools to develop their programmes, be it as top-notch cancer treatment centers or other related services that address urgent healthcare needs in the country.

“A closer relationship with USTDA will also allow recipient organisations to draw on highly-valued US experience in healthcare, and build lasting partnerships that improve national and global health,” Ehanire said.

Speaking on the grant, Mr Ade Adefeko, a director of Mobihealth, said, “We hope to maximise the new opportunity AIF has opened for Mobihealth, and we remain committed to changing the dismal narrative of healthcare across the continent of Africa.”

Dr Funmi Adewara has been in the forefront of the advocacy for support and funding for African women. She has always lamented that African female founders often find it difficult to raise funding for their works and businesses.

“So, we are extremely grateful that the tireless commitment of the African Investment Forum of the AfDB has yielded this good outcome,” she said. “It has been invaluable in spotlighting Mobihealth to other credible investors.”

She added that the outcome of this feasibility studies will unlock further funding as they seek to reach other underserved communities in Africa, who share similar challenges in the healthcare sector common to Nigeria.

She noted that the COVID-19 pandemic was a blessing in disguise, that it exposed the vulnerability of Africa’s healthcare sector and is driving the much needed action by public and private sector stakeholders in addressing the inefficiencies, fragmentation, paucity of data, and poor infrastructure that have plagued the continent for many decades.

She also noted that Mobihealth is one of Africa’s healthcare providers that played, and is still playing, vital roles in the fight against COVID-19 and other health challenges.

Adewara stated that Mobihealth is an integrated telehealth solution that provides access to quality medical care including teleconsultation, eprescription, AI diagnostics, health screening, education, training and local capacity building. The company also provides EMR.

She further stated that the platform provides access via hybrid of mobile app, phone-in, web chat, walk-in telehealth clinics powered with AI diagnostic remote devices.

“We started providing probono medical services in November, 2017; but launched commercial operations in January, 2020,” she said. “Our interventions have impacted over a 100,000 lives till date.”

While speaking on the cost and accessibility of Mobihealth services, she explained that the business model offers B2B, B2C, B2G, SaaS, and whitelabel solutions at an average cost of $10/year for its mass-market packages; and a premium package that provides access to foreign medical experts, including Nigerian medical experts in the diaspora, at an average cost of $35 per month.

“With more than 30,000 paid subscribers and hundreds of teleconsultations monthly, the company hopes to reach one million subscribers by 2025,” she said.

Adewara said they have established 10 integrated telehealth clinics across six states in the country — Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Kogi, Kano, and Benue — working closely with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Nigerian Air Force telehealth.