Mobile Afya overall ideology lies in prevention before cure by having tips related to health for all. This time around we are journeying with the Mobile Afya startup that was founded five years ago. Mobile Afya is the first USSD Application in Tanzania using Internet-free mobile technology to provide basic health information and education in rural areas. The USSD application uses native languages starting with Swahili but they are looking forward to expanding to other languages and to other East African countries. Mobile Afya application was developed by Women Medical Professionals, Doctors, Engineers and Tech Innovators.
Mobile Afya was founded by Mariatheresa Samson Kadushi who soon joined forces with Dr. Hilderruth Shoo to build the app. Ms. Mariatheresa sat on a one on one interview with Media Convergency and shared the journey of Mobile Afya and the impact it’s making to the HeathTech industry. They are located at Mikocheni in Dar es Salaam.
The Attended Problem
Mobile Afya began with the sole purpose of solving the Digital divide in the Health Sector when it comes to accessing health information. Ms. Mariatheresa tells us, “A young person aged 26 has more channels to information than a person living in the rural areas such as Katavi, who does not own a smart phone and barely has any radio connection therefore denying him or her access to health information, hence through our mobile technology, one can use it a tool to get access to health information.”
The Driving Force behind Mobile Afya
“There was no inspiration behind, Mobile Afya started from curiosity, I was living in Singida and there was a huge number of street children and I grew curios to know why there were kids in the streets, why no one cares and how did they get there in the first place, so I took my time to learn about their backgrounds and families.”
“I did a case study trying to understand the problem of homelessness and poverty in children what I came to learn is that the average age of young women giving birth was eighteen years old which means there were other women who gave birth at seventeen, sixteen and even fifteen or younger than that and the average number of children these young women had in each family was six, I realized there was a huge gap in sexual and reproductive health education and information, so from there I took it upon myself to come up with a solution teamed up with other people and so Mobile Afya started as Msichana App later, Binti App, Kijana and eventually Mobile Afya.” adds Ms. MariaTheresa
By doing more research Mobile Afya found out the gap of health information not only affected Women, Sexual and Reproduction health but it went further than that so they scaled up and covered other health topics and made it inclusive for everyone.
The Startup Investment
Mobile Afya started with self-funding, then went to family and friends who helped in covering their costs. In 2018 they got funded 10,000 Euros by a software company in Germany that was used in testing their MVP and prototyping and it was a big boost in validating their concept. Mobile Afya kept their focus on the Startups eco-system in Europe to get the funding they needed and were fortunate enough to secure a pre-seed funding over 300 Million Tanzanian shillings from Female Investors in Europe.
How the Service Works
The user dials the access code *147*47#, then choose from the menu the topic they want to learn about after selecting, a user receives four to six text messages (SMS) per topic.
Mobile Afya covers different topics from non-communicable diseases to neglected tropical diseases to communicable diseases such as Covid-19. The most requested topic is the first aid treatment where we provide skills and tools that help in giving assistance in any health emergencies. They also cover Sexual and Reproductive health when it comes to the Menstruation cycle, Mobile Afya has a menstrual calendar that can guide one during their periods. Mobile Afya has a range of topics to mention a few; Nutrition education, Sexual and Reproductive education and Gender Violence.
The Targeted Customers
Mobile Afya covers three types of groups, one is Individual, second is Companies and NGO’s, last is Special Group. For individual, in Tanzania, anyone with a mobile phone can use Mobile Afya to access basic health information, this helps communities to exercise preventive measures, make informed decisions and lead a healthier life. A new user can subscribe by contributing an annual subscription fee of TZS 3,000 (€1.10). For Companies and NGO’s, Mobile Afya subscriptions are covered by the employer therefore employees can use Mobile Afya to access health information and stay fit at work. The services are also coupled with medical checkups, wellness consultations & healthy lifestyle workshops. For Special Groups, Mobile Afya works together with partners to mobilize funds that will allow them to provide health information to people living with disabilities, refugees, people living with chronic diseases and more.
When asked how they differentiate their initiative from other similar ones in the Tanzanian Eco-System, she had this to say, “There is no similar USSD health application that operates privately that we know off in Tanzania but so far we are capitalizing in being the first in the market, growing our target groups and increasing our user base.”
What to Improve and Achievements
Mobile Afya looks at Partnership as the one area that would help in enhancing their services, partnerships with players in the Eco-system such as telecommunication companies because Mobile Afya works with mobile networks operators and it is their hope that these companies will provide more rooms to work with innovators and startups through partnership. Ms. MariaTheresa says, “One of the ways it is through a revenue sharing model that would work well with MNO’s (Mobile Network Operator) when it comes to subscriptions fee the amount we receive is divide in a percentage between Mobile Afya and the MNO’s while using their networks to reach more people.”
Mobile Afya acknowledges securing 1000 users as one of their greatest achievement while having a team of competent skilled workers.
The pandemic slowed down their operations and they had to take the necessary measures like working from home and majority of their activities were on the ground like meeting with people from different communities they could not do that during the outbreak of Covid-19, they were also working to get the approval from the ministry of health but failed to get on time and they had to wait longer as the focus was on the Pandemic.
The Next Step
“I am very optimistic of the future, we are looking forward to becoming the leading health information providers in Africa, I see us working in different countries, using different languages, growing our network from USSD applications to smart app to web application and I see us having more than five million users in the next 5 to 10 years.” Says Mariatheresa
A Word of Advice
“We believe by working closely with the Ministry of Health and having tangible actions towards including innovations will help in enhancing our health sectors without forgetting cutting off some bureaucratic government processes that may hinder our businesses and investments.”
Lastly Mariatheresa tells us she believes in being bound to make mistakes for it is a part of learning and do not let your mistake own you rather embrace it and learn from it so that you can do better and be better than before.
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