In Kenya, the ratio of patients to doctors is 6,000 to 1, and the dearth of health professionals isn't the only challenge to accessing decent health care. Unlicensed impostors hand out expired medicines to people who don't know any better, and a shortage of public information on health services makes it easier for quacks to lure victims. This fall alone, 22 illegal health clinic were shut down by Kenyan authorities.
More than 25 million Kenyans have mobile phones, making apps a logical way to disseminate essential information about health. MedAfrica, a new smartphone app, has positioned itself as the go-to service for wired Kenyans in search of reputable health care. The app operates like a mobile yellow pages for medical services, providing basic listings of professionals in the area. Additional features include a symptom checker for patients to compare their ailments with different diseases and make decisions about seeking medical attention.
The app, which has been downloaded as often as 1,000 times a day since its November launch, is a product of local app company Shimba Mobile, and is operating on $100,000 worth of funding from European venture capitalists. For now, all the information is free, but the startup has a few monetization strategies in the works. "Straight off the bat, you have to think sustainability. and more than that you have to show value," CEO Steve Mutinda told a technology conference this fall. To keep the lights on, the company eventually will charge doctors for monthly access to the user base, offer premium content, and secure paid advertising.