How High-Quality Diagnostic Services Are Finally Reaching Thousands of African Patients

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(Last Updated On: October 16, 2019)

Four entrepreneurs have teamed together to create MDaaS Global, a highly promising initiative with aspirations to radically improve healthcare and patient outcomes for people across Africa.

MDaaS Global’s initiative, under the brand name Beacon Health, aims to build and operate diagnostic clinics in areas of Africa that have been historically underserved by health services. The first clinic, in Ibadan, Nigeria, is already running a six-days-a-week service that has helped thousands of patients since it opened in November 2017.

Husband and wife Oluwasoga Oni and Genevieve Barnard Oni, with fellow MIT graduate Joe McCord and Nigerian Opeyemi Ologun, co-founded the initiative after discovering a common interest in improving public health in Africa.

With partners that include the Legatum Center at MIT, MIT Ideas, and the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the initiative is already operating profitably, with a business model that looks like it can straightforwardly be scaled up to reach thousands more, possibly hundreds of thousands of patients within 10 years.

The Drive

Many communities in Africa experience woefully inadequate health services. Public spending is often low, there is little medical infrastructure, and expertise is overstretched. 

Adequate diagnostic services are few and far between. Most rural clinics do not have the equipment or access to lab services to make fast, accurate diagnoses of diseases and conditions such as malaria and HIV. The result is a health care system that treats symptoms first and foremost and not the cause. Many lives are lost as a result. It is this issue that drives MDaaS Global to make significant improvements.

It’s worth noting, also, that 40% of the sub-Saharan African population have no access to medical services at all. In Nigeria, a nation with close to 200 million people, this is an alarmingly high number of people without adequate healthcare — even more so when you consider that Nigeria’s population is expected to double by 2050.

The Vision

MDaaS’ initial goal was to get high-quality medical equipment, such as X-ray and ultrasound machines, into clinics in the region. The initiative was able to buy refurbished equipment in bulk, which they then offered to clinics alongside vital service support.

While it hadn’t been previously unusual for second-hand medical equipment to be sent to Africa, the long-term benefits were often negligible. “Countless times, I saw rooms full of equipment that had never been set up or equipment that had been used for a few months before breaking down, with no hope of repair,” says one of the founders, Genevieve Barnard Oni. She was determined that this new supply system would be different by providing access to spare parts and technicians.

However, when they began selling their equipment in Nigeria, the initiative quickly realized that it was only reaching more affluent patients in larger cities. Not satisfied, the group adapted the business model, even though the operation was already profitable.

Adapting quickly

Instead, the initiative would use its medical equipment supply chain to open diagnostic centers. These centers would serve dozens of rural hospitals and clinics, meaning the people in these areas would be given far better access to high-quality diagnostic services. And by centralizing these services and harnessing technology, costs could be kept low.

The first MDaaS diagnostic center currently serves more than 60 rural clinics and hospitals through its referral service but also accepts walk-in patients. The center operates ECG, EEG and digital X-ray machines, and ultrasound equipment among its services, and has a full suite lab. Most test results are interpreted by in-house technicians.

The tech-enabled center allows the operation to keep admin and staff costs low, focusing resources on medical expertise instead. For instance, referrals and patient bookings are primarily made using WhatsApp.

What’s next

The center became profitable in less than six months, proving the operation is one that can be duplicated across the region. The goal is to open 100 centers within 10 years, starting with several more in Nigeria before expanding into other countries. Right now, MDaaS are focusing on how to duplicate the Ibadan center and how to manage multiple centers.

Barnard Oni says, “We’re trying to get to the point where it’s almost a diagnostic center in a box. We can provide everything you’d need to go from zero patients to see 1,000 or 2,000 a month. We’re also getting so much data and information about the people we’re seeing, so we know the diseases they’re coming in for and the type of diagnostics they need. This information will become increasingly important as we look to build health care solutions for hundreds of thousands of patients instead of tens of thousands.”

MDaaS Global is already looking like an example of how ambitious, people-driven goals and global entrepreneurship can combine to change the lives of thousands of people.

by Chiyako Ikeda

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