• Long delays for patients requiring specialist healthcare diagnoses sparked an idea
• Njeru came up with a solution that links experts in towns to patients in rural areas
In 2019, Kenneth Njeru was a travel management expert who had started developing an interest in the stock market.
While his interest in stocks and investment grew, he also discovered the potential of the medical sector as an investment opportunity.
There was one big problem, however: no stocks were available to trade on his local stock market, the Nairobi Stock Exchange.
So, a week before his 21st birthday, he registered a company.
“I started with the end in mind, a company to (not) just do business in Nairobi or Kenya, but Africa,” Njeru said.
The healthcare sector’s macroeconomic factors made for an obvious investment opportunity, he believed: inelastic demand, meaning consumer spending habits stay the same whatever prices are doing, along with increasing interest from the investment community.
“I would say the healthcare sector is only second to IT when it comes to business viability,” Njeru said.
He registered Africa Afya Healthcare in October 2019. A few months later, the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in China.
“As much as most people think healthcare businesses weren't affected during Covid, my business’s main anchor — capital commitment from potential investors for our deals in the pipeline — proved hard to come by due to the global slowdown of business,” he said.
Njeru says some health facilities were no longer viable because of either loss of revenue from medical college business schools, or the public’s reluctance to visit hospitals for fear of contracting Covid.
However, Njeru remained focused and quickly grew a network of business owners across the country who were open to investment or to selling their entire healthcare stake as soon as the economy improved. Njeru focused on helping companies improve efficiency with IT, making them better investment targets.
My dream was to bring in world-class IT solutions for hospitals that not only reduce patient waiting and reduce hospital staff's work burden but could potentially save livesKenneth Njeru
In 2020, almost exactly a year after he founded Africa Afya Healthcare, a relative of his was involved in an accident. After rushing to the hospital, he was informed that she was stable and didn’t have visible injuries. She was scheduled for a scan but a specialist would only be available to make a proper diagnosis "in a few days".
“I wondered to myself if there was a way to do this and avoid waiting. I asked myself if we really needed to wait for the doctor to come from elsewhere,” he shared.
Not long after, while interacting on LinkedIn, he came across a technology used in Europe that greatly improves patient turnaround times. Njeru thought of coming up with a system that would ease the burden on hospitals, especially for those disadvantaged by being located in the remote areas of the country.
“My dream was to bring in world-class IT solutions for hospitals that not only reduce patient waiting and reduce hospital staff's work burden but could potentially save lives,” he said.
So Njeru pivoted his business model. His Africa Afya Healthcare now has a platform to help people get medical opinions online. His mission is to provide innovative and affordable healthcare solutions that improve patient outcomes as well as benefit healthcare providers.
Platform user Neil Ochingo is a testament to the improved patient outcomes for those using Africa Afya. Ochingo was involved in an accident while at his home in Homa Bay county. He fell and injured his spine. He went for a CT scan and wasn't satisfied with the diagnosis.
He had the original scan images in a portable disk, which he uploaded onto the Africa Afya healthcare platform, along with his medical history details.
“After I did the scan, I needed a second opinion since surgery was recommended. I used the platform to get a second opinion from another radiologist, which was more convenient than visiting a second hospital,” Ochingo said.
Convinced by the results, Ochingo proceeded with the surgery.
For Belinda Mwandime from Voi in the coastal region of Kenya, getting an opinion on her MRI scan result within two hours was the best thing on her treatment journey.
For her, it was also assuring “that distance will no longer be a barrier to getting quality and satisfying medical care".
One of the key services is teleradiology reporting thanks to Africa Afya's Picture Archiving Systems (PACS), which enables understaffed hospitals, especially in remote areas, to get access to radiology reporting.
"We believe that this service can make a significant difference in improving the quality of healthcare for patients in these areas,” Njeru said.
The company's PACS assists radiologists by receiving and interpreting scans remotely and writing reports. All the hospital does is scan and upload the scan images and patient information into the system, and radiologists with access to the images can make diagnoses from anywhere in the world.
Njeru recently joined the United Nations Global Youth Health Caucus, where young change-makers discuss and share ideas that would push the world towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3: promote good healthcare for all. He sounds optimistic about the future for Africa’s health sector for the health of Africa's people’s in general.
Dr Akintunde Orunmuyi, a nuclear medicine consultant at the Kenyatta University Teaching Referral and Research Hospital in Nairobi, says teleradiology is increasingly used in medicine to address health workforce shortages and the inequitable distribution of trained specialists globally.
“Teleradiology improves access to these specialists, saving time and increasing productivity,” he said.
"Furthermore, community imaging centres can be established to minimise the distance travelled for patients to access these specialist services when needed."
He adds that teleradiology solutions are well suited for developing countries where optimisation of limited resources is an important goal for universal health coverage.
While allowing imaging specialists to provide vital services without having to be physically present at the location where the images were acquired, teleradiology, he said, can also be used to train new imaging specialists.
This is particularly important for giving hospitals and health facilities access to subspecialists, such as nuclear medicine physicians, paediatric neuroradiologists and MRI radiologists. These experts are generally only located in large academic hospitals in urban centres, usually during the daytime.
Thanks to services such as those provided by Africa Afya Healthcare, Abdalla Sankor, a freelance medical imaging scientist from Mandera in northern Kenya, said waiting times and accuracy of reports have improved.
“Having used the platform to consult with colleagues in Kenya and other parts of the world, I have witnessed reduced waiting times, hence less time is spent on queuing in hospitals,” he said.
Other hospitals that have successfully used Njeru's innovation include Gutale Hospital in northeastern Somalia and Good Hope Hospital in Nyahururu, Laikipia county, Kenya.
The young entrepreneur is now rolling out the service more widely.