Peace Iraguha has an idea to get people from ‘I think I’m healthy’ to ‘I know I’m healthy’. In her view, there’s an alarming rise in lifestyle diseases which is why people need to take control of their lives. She is not wrong. Recent data shows that non-communicable diseases (NCDs), also called lifestyle diseases, are on the rise in Rwanda due to increased risk factors like tobacco use, physical inactivity, excessive consumption of alcohol and unhealthy diets. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), major NCDs like cardiovascular (heart) diseases, cancer, diabetes, and others, are collectively responsible for almost 70 per cent of all deaths worldwide. Co-founders of Lifesten Health; Victor Ambuyo (left), Peace Iraguha and Stephen Ogweno. WHO’s 2016 estimates also show that they account for 58 per cent of total annual mortality in Rwanda. In sub-Saharan Africa, three out of five deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases with hospital admissions at 55 per cent. Lifesten Health, a consumer-focused digital health firm, is Iraguha’s response to this. It is supposed to work with health plans, care providers, and fitness centres to engage clients and reduce their chance of developing lifestyle diseases. The 24-year-old has a background in human nutrition and dietetics studies and she is currently pursuing a master’s in global health delivery. For her, this hits even closer to home. She recounts that her aunt developed a sudden limp before Christmas and got herself a walking stick as a Christmas gift. The Lifesten Health app. A few days later she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes which had started affecting her extremities, hence, the mysterious limp, she says. Iraguha’s aunt would call her regularly with questions like ‘can I take honey or bananas with my condition? Is wine allowed? When should I go back to the hospital? What should I eat more? Is my weight too much?’ and et cetera. One of her friends and co-founder of the company, also struggled with childhood obesity which pushed them to bring to life their young start-up in September 2021. She shares the idea with Ambuyo Victor and Stephen Ogweno, both from Kenya. “The health system is designed for communicable diseases, and with urbanisation/sedentary lifestyle, it needs to evolve towards management of non-communicable diseases,” Iraguha notes. “More work is needed in this sector, and I continuously want to equip myself with skills to contribute to solving this issue. My vision is to have informed communities in Africa even in the most remote areas of the continent because I believe that is the first step to having control over your health,” she says. How it works “At Lifesten Health we are tackling this through an all-in-one mobile platform that not only educates you on how to practice healthy living but also rewards you for it,” she says. As users engage in different challenges from mindfulness practices, nutrition, and fitness challenges, they also collect points that can be redeemed as discounts or subscriptions to Lifesten partners. Basically, Lifesten conducts awareness on and management of NCDs, provides tips on managing one’s lifestyle/behaviours and gives them rewards for being healthy. “Companies pay a monthly subscription for their employees to access our services. On an individual level, premium customers pay an annual subscription fee to get access to our premium features which range from personalised meal plans to workout practices and regular follow up from healthcare providers,” Iraguha says. Asked why she chose this way in particular, she says, “As a health practitioner and entrepreneur, I recognise that leadership and entrepreneurship are core components of improving livelihoods through efficient service delivery and innovation in health care delivery. “This is why I am using both my entrepreneurship and health science skills to address health equity and drive change to the system,” she adds. Iraguha’s Lifesten Health is one of the start-ups owned by young people that were showcased to CHOGM delegates who attended the first day of the Commonwealth Business Forum on June 21. She is also part of the over 200 young entrepreneurs currently being empowered at the Norrsken House Kigali, an entrepreneurship hub. “Lifesten is a combination of two words, Lifestyle and enhancing, which is what we are doing-enhancing healthier lifestyles,” Iraguha says.