babyl Rwanda was recognized as the Innovator of the Year during RDB’s Business Excellence Awards held in January 2019. babyl, a subsidiary of Babylon based in the United Kingdom, is the world’s first comprehensive fully integrated mobile healthcare service that started operations in Rwanda in September 2016.
According to babyl’s Deputy CEO, Dr. Shivon Byamukama, ‘Getting the award means a lot to us. It is recognition of the true innovation that we are making in healthcare. We are at the forefront, developing cutting-edge technology that will change the way people experience healthcare. I am personally very humbled that Babylon chose Rwanda as the first country outside the United Kingdom to bring this technology. We have since increased our presence in the US, Canada and Asia, with a vison of expanding everywhere on earth. This is a testament to Rwanda as a home of innovation, a proof of concept country and one of the easiest places in the world to do business.”
Dr. Shivon also said that part of their innovation is the ability for the company to develop technology based on the realities of different countries. “In the United Kingdom, our services are accessed through an app that our users download from the apple store. When we started operations in Rwanda, we quickly figured this would not work. Although we have a 76.6% phone penetration, only 10% have smart phones. Our vision is to ensure that everyone on earth has access to healthcare, not only the rich, but everyone. We had to find innovative ways to ensure that people with feature phones are able to use our services too. The company developed a USSD that can send text between a mobile phone and a software program, allowing people with feature phones to book appointments and speak to a doctor on their phone.”
A user would dial *811#, enter their National ID number and get registered on its platform. If the registered user is unwell, they would then dial *811#, book an appointment, make their contribution through mobile money (currently a nominal fee of RWF 200), and a medical professional calls the patient.
The medical professional’s first call is to determine whether the patient is calling for a condition suitable for digital health. If someone has fallen off a motorcycle for example, or is a woman in labor, such people can only be oriented to seek care at their nearest health facility. However, if the patient is suitable for digital health, an appointment will be made for them with a doctor.
Following the digital phone consultation, the doctor may prescribe medicine, request the patient to do some blood tests or simply give medical advice just like they would in a physical facility. The patient will simply receive a prescription or laboratory code that can be redeemed at any of babyl’s 130 partner pharmacies or 360 Health Centers. Laboratory results are sent back to their portal and to a babyl doctor who are able to consult further, diagnose and prescribe treatments or refer cases to district hospitals. About 75% of most callers can be treated through babyl’s digital health.
Dr. Shivon explained that the main challenge babyl is trying to resolve is access to healthcare. “This is not just a Rwanda problem but a global challenge. About 50% of the world’s population have little or no access to healthcare. Rwanda has made tremendous progress in improving healthcare for its citizens. In fact, Rwanda is one of the few countries in the world with Universal Health Care. That said, people still walk long distances and wait in line for a long time to access healthcare. In developed countries such as the United Kingdom, patients take up to a week to see a doctor. Simply put, there are just too few doctors to treat the ever growing population across the globe.”
Since babyl started its operations in Rwanda, they have had over two million Rwandans subscribe to their service on a daily basis, and they carry out over 2,000 consultations every single day. “We are now present in all 30 districts in Rwanda. I am told that the uptake of babyl services has surpassed that of mobile money. This is a testament that our service is not only innovative, but is relevant and much needed by the people we serve. For every patient that calls our service, we store their medical records in an encrypted form in Rwanda. We have a centralized medical record keeping system and in time, patients will be able to access their medical records using our advanced platform,” Dr. Shivon added.
Working with the Government of Rwanda
babyl has partnered with Government and Government agencies on many levels. They have partnered with the National Identification Agency (NIDA) that helps babyl users verify their identity as soon as they register for the service. “When a person dials *811# for the very first time, we will ask then to put in their ID number. NIDA will quickly verify that the telephone number registering for the service is attached to the specific ID. This helps us treat the right person and ensures we are storing medical records of the right individual,” says Dr. Shivon.
babyl has also partnered with the Government through the Ministry of Health which allows babyl patients to use laboratory and pharmacy facilities at health centers just as they would had they gone to a conventional health facility for medical advice. Furthermore, babyl patients are able to use their Community Based Health Insurance (mituelle) and RSSB (ex-RAMA) insurance schemes to access babyl’s service, pharmacy and laboratory services.
“In addition to the Government of Rwanda, we have also partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Expo Live Dubai which have made delivery of our the service possible. We look forward to longer term collaboration with the Government to ensure we continue to deliver this much needed service to Rwandans,” says Dr. Shivon.
What’s next for babyl
Innovation remains central to babyl’s future plans. babyl have now introduced its AI technology, a doctors brain that will be used in selected Health Centers and in the babyl call center so that people with feature phones can take advantage of the advanced technology that babyl has built.
“Further expansion is a big priority for us. We are now in 30 districts throughout the country and we intend to reach every Rwandan in the coming days. We live by our vision and mission: to provide accessible and affordable health care to everyone on earth. To this end, we are already looking to expand to other countries keeping Rwanda as our Africa Head Quarters. We are now very actively looking at the Kenyan market. Other markets on our radar include Tanzania, Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa,” says Dr. Shivon.