eHealth Nigeria: technology solutions to transform the African health care sector

By Bertil van Vugt on February 15, 2012

Many outstanding ideas and ventures are submitted to our website every day. Now we will meet Adam Thompson of eHealth Nigeria who is based in Kano. Adam and his team are supporting managements of health facilities in Nigeria to influence health-related funding and policy decisions, and provide doctors with the patient information needed to improve decision-making before, during, and after care.

Can you explain what e-health and m-health is?

“eHealth and mHealth in my most simple definition is the application of relevant Information and Communication Technologies geared towards improving healthcare delivery and increasing access to healthcare. At the core it’s about empowerment… by empowering healthcare actors to take more effective action with better decision-making tools.”

Please describe your venture eHealth Nigeria?

eHealth Nigeria (soon to be simply ‘eHealth Africa’) has the goal to provide eHealth and mHealth tools and services to various health stakeholders (government agencies, NGOs, private hospitals, and other health agencies) around West and Central Africa. We combine hardware, software, power, training, and communications infrastructure into easily accessible and deployable packages. We aim to reduce the cost and complexity of implementing eHealth solutions.”

Why is there a need for this in Nigeria?

“In Nigeria and many other places a lack of accurate and timely information hinders everything in the healthcare field; from the delivery of supplies, to the reaction to an outbreak of cholera, to the identification of polio affected communities. Our tools even help identify pending shortages in emergency nutritional supplies in case of food shortage or famine. It will take a long time to change the healthcare system in Nigeria, eHealth will make this process more open and transparent.”

Please tell us a bit more about your background. And how did you end up in Kano?

“I started as a engineer in Ghana working for a start-up ISP in 2003. While doing that I worked for a short consultancy with Baobab for Women’s Human Rights in Lagos, Nigeria. Since then I continued work at the University of California as a research specialist. There I provided support and did research for women’s rights and women’s health groups that were supported by Packard and MacArthur foundations in Nigeria. A lot of these organizations were based in Kano or the North so I became familiar with the area. In 2010 I moved to Kano full time to pursue my ventures.”

What is the business model behind eHealth Nigeria?

“We initially thought we would directly sell software and other tools with service solutions to various health facilities. The market was not developed for this yet and our clients wanted much more comprehensive solutions and support. Basically we provide eHealth services in a range of areas (hiv, maternal health, nutrition, polio, etc) which can involve deploying software solutions, providing data center services, deploying alternative energy solutions, or organizing survey and data collection services.

We’ve built up a lot of infrastructure in telecommunications, software development, data storage and processing, server hosting, alternative energy, and management of fieldwork. So we can be called upon to quickly implement a project or initiative and we take care of the design, implementation, scale up, and day-to-day management.”

Who are your competitors and how are you different?

“We have competitors in the software end of our work. There are some other agencies and private companies that have produced software for hospitals.  However we’ve stayed out of this segment and focused on a higher level on complete systems solutions.

We believe we are different because we do not sell software products, we focus on services, complete solutions, and maintenance.  We’ve built our own cloud data center so we can host the servers and data storage in the cloud for our clients.  We’ve essentially tried to vertically integrate in our field by providing everything from the power source, hardware, software, training, and even project planning and logistical (or supply chain) support.

Our competitors fall into 3 categories:

1) Local software companies. These groups tend to be small (<10 employees) and produce proprietary software using mostly PHP, .NET, and sometimes Java.  These companies come in and out of existence frequently, usually leaving their past clients with no upgrade path or any way to salvage their data.

2) International software and IT firms. Intel, IBM, Oracle, SAP, and other companies work in our field either through certified partners, subsidiaries, or through philanthropic means. We see them often provide technical support and funding for IT projects in small solutions spaces. Since they do these for free it pretty much cuts anybody out of the space.

3) Large NGOs or Government Agencies. The larger more sophisticated NGOs tend to have an in-house IT staff that believes they can manage the most complex IT solutions and provide long-term support. While in lots of cases this would be ideal it causes problems in our space because these internal projects exhaust lots of resources and time and by the time we reach them lots of times they’ve lost the internal momentum to continue and also can’t usually commit the same amount of resources.”

What are your biggest challenges?

“Nigeria is our biggest challenge! Work is tough here, skill levels are very low and the government is very difficult to work with. We have a difficult time finding the IT and program manager talent that we need. It greatly affects the amount of work we can commit to. If I could hire 10 more talented developers and 5 program managers tomorrow I would do it and I would easily find the work to keep everyone busy.

The other challenge is developing world conditions. Nigeria’s infrastructure is poor, the country is politically unstable, and recently we have experienced a quickly deteriorating safety and security situation. Recent events in Kano have nearly closed our office for 2 weeks as it wasn’t safe for our staff to travel back from vacation.”

What are you looking for at VC4Africa?

“We’re interested in connecting with VCs and other entrepreneurs that are interested in collaboration on health care systems improvement. We’re looking to branch out and support projects in environmental health and food security so funding is going to be imperative to start these new initiatives.”

How can VC4A members contact you?

“Our website is up-to-date with our contact information and we’re on Facebook. People can also reach me through my VC4Africa profile.”

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