By Samuel Ouma
Nuriat Nambogo, a 35-year-old Ugandan, created MobiCare, a smartphone-based application that connects patients to certified health providers and allows for seamless appointment scheduling.
Nuriat Nambogo mobilized a group of her peers to create MobiCare Application, a mobile-based application that helps patients schedule appointments with health workers to avoid disappointments. She was inspired by expectant mothers losing their pregnancies on a daily basis due to failure to get doctors on time and long lines at the hospital.
Ms. Nambogo was a top winner of the Africa Young Innovators For Health Award, which was co-sponsored by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) and Speak Up Africa.
She shared her journey in a Q & A with Pan African Visions.
You’re among the top winners of the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award, under Women Innovators Incubator initiative. Tell us more about this award and how you made it to the top from over 300 applicants from 33 African countries.
My name is Nambogo Nuriat, CEO and team leader of MobiCare Uganda.
I am glad that MobiCare emerged among the top applications which positions us at an opportunity of marketing our product internationally. By the time we applied for the African Young Innovators for Health Awards, a minimum viable product of MobiCare. We had earlier conducted a feasibility study in Private health facilities in Mbarara district in south western Uganda which provided us good feedback from participants which we used to improve the application that was ready for deployment/ pilot among patients and doctors in private health facilities in Mbarara District. We had also already engaged Uganda Medical and Dental Practitioners Council (UMDPC); a body that provides practicing licenses to medical doctors in Uganda, which gave us authorisation to have doctors registered on our platform. More to that, we had already engaged the chair of ethics for the Uganda Medical Association (UMA) who guided us on the different features of MobiCare and how best it could be integrated into the current medical system in Uganda. Given this background and a competent and focused team, it was easy for us to favourably compete and emerge among the winners.
Tell us more about your innovation MobiCare, what problem is your innovation trying to solve in Uganda, and how impactful has it been so far?
MobiCare is a mobile-based application that links patients/ caretakers to their preferred doctors through a convenient appointment scheduling system.
Currently in Uganda just like any other African country, we have less than 90,000 health workers employed in the health sector with only 6% Medical Doctor who work in more than one health facility. This makes it difficult for patients seeking healthcare services to know where to find them at the time of need. Therefore MobiCare comes into play to bridge this gap by enabling patients to access individual doctor’s schedules in the different health facilities where they work and directly request them for appointments.
We have already deployed MobiCare in private health facilities in South Western Uganda where some doctors and their patients are using it to have appointments scheduled and managed.
MobiCare bridges gaps between the patients and medical professionals by facilitating direct communication. What was the motivation behind such rare innovation?
The origin of MobiCare is based on a personal experience where I lost a pregnancy because I could not access a doctor in time. In 2018, I was about 3 months pregnant and got a complication that required me to seek healthcare. I rushed to a hospital where I was assessed by a clinician. The clinician later recommended that I needed to see a gynaecologist who had unfortunately left and was to return the next day. The gynaecologist gave me two options either to return the next day or go see another gynaecologist who he recommended in another hospital. Unfortunately that other gynaecologist was also unavailable and I had to wait until the next day. However, by then I had lost my baby.
This whole bad experience triggered me to think about how we could ease the process of getting the to the right doctor in times of need.
Do you have any plans to scale up to other countries in East Africa or across Africa?
We believe the problem of accessing healthcare services at a time of need cuts across all African countries and with this in mind, we have developed MobiCare to be translated in any language of choice and scalable to any country. Once we get to that stage, we shall seek partnerships and authorisation from the responsible institutions in the specific countries to allow the use of MobiCare.
You were one of the speakers at the 4th edition of the Galien Forum Africa which ended last week. What are the lessons you can share with other women in Uganda struggling to make it through innovation at such a time when Covid-19 has left many startups and entrepreneurs struggling financially?
The Galien Forum Africa gave me an opportunity to speak to the world and more so my fellow women. Also listening to my fellow women innovators speak about their experiences with their innovations gave me more encouragement to stay focused in the line of innovation. It also exhibited potential for more innovations from fellow African women if supported.
What are the major challenges to women entrepreneurs in health and science in Uganda? How have you managed to overcome such challenges?
One can never do much without support from the different key players like the team members and partners. To bring your innovation to life, one needs money for development and have the different project activities implemented. Having the right team to work with and deliver is also a challenge for most innovators.
As an individual I was faced with the above challenges and this is how I was able to overcome them:
I was able to put together a team with whom I could work to move this Idea. I identified people with different skill sets and together we formed a team that was focused and committed to bring MobiCare to life. We have been able to develop the MobiCare App, apply and compete for funding that has enabled us to implement some of our planned project activities.
How can girls and young women thrive in entrepreneurship startups in the health sector in Uganda and Africa?
Girls and young women with interest in the health sector should identify and closely work with experts in the field of health for guidance, mentorship and understanding the challenges in the health sector. They also need to identify partners and seek financial support to help them develop their ideas and implement the different activities.
As an entrepreneur in the health sector, how do you think African countries can eliminate gender imbalance that exists in Africa’s health innovation landscape?
Stakeholders in the space of innovations need to empower women interested in innovations by providing platforms similar to the Women Innovators Incubator program that encourage and support women to bring their ideas to life. They also need to specifically put out calls for funding that target women innovators.
Using your experience in your field, what opportunities do you see especially for women and girls in Uganda?
There are several opportunities and initiatives in Uganda currently supporting innovating innovators that women are eligible to participate in. The Government of Uganda is running an innovation support program under the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance called National ICT initiative Support Program (NIISP) where calls for applications are sent out annually and women are always encouraged to apply. We also have innovation hubs like one where MobiCare has been incubates, the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) at Mbarara University of Science and Technology that provides guidance to Innovators from ideation although to commercialisation. There are also a number of other women innovators who have made it through this journey like myself and are willing to provide mentorship to fellow women innovators.
How can more African Women innovators in Uganda reap from this opportunity in the next editions of the Women innovators incubator Award ?
They need to prepare well, have a proof of concept in order to favourably compete for such awards .Its always good to have a minimum viable product that is already tested with user feedback. Interested individuals can also always checkout on the Website for Africa Young Innovators in Health for when this opportunity is available and they apply.
Given that your innovation is internet based, what challenges are you facing and what are you doing to address them? What next for MobiCare in the next 5 years to come?
There are connectivity challenges in some places however, internet coverage in Uganda is improving and we hope this will be stable in the near future. Also the cost of purchasing internet data sometimes keeps some users off MobiCare. To address this, we plan on engaging telecom companies to subsidize MobiCare data usage.
In the next 5 years, as a team we see MobiCare rolled out for use in all parts of the country with atleast 80% of medical doctors registered and using MobiCare to manage their patients’ appointments.
Any success tips for entrepreneurs in Uganda and in Africa?
In order for you to be successful in the space of innovation and entrepreneurship, one needs determination and willingness to learn. As an innovator and entrepreneur, you will always have moments when you interface challenges that may shake you and sometimes tempt you to quit. You should however find solutions and pick lessons from such experiences in order for you to keep on the right track.
Also, as an entrepreneur you need to understand your customer expectations and figure out how best you can satisfy them. Even if it’s an innovation you are trying to develop, always remember that you are not developing this for yourself. This therefore means that you need to understand your intended user and what their expectations are and put them into consideration. This will help you have a product that will easily gain market and survive competition once it is commercialised.