Kenya to expand health care access, affordability through technology

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Authorities in Kenya are turning to technology to help improve access to health care in the country’s more remote areas, where close to three-quarters of the population lives.

In particular, the government is looking to leverage Kenya’s relatively high mobile phone penetration – 89.2% as of March, according to the Communications Authority of Kenya – to overcome accessibility limitations.

These developments should help boost coverage, with just 20% of Kenyans currently enjoying regular access to health care, according to the World Bank.

Mobile insurance

One means of leveraging mobile phones to improve health care is as a sales channel for micro-insurance.

Kenya’s mobile operators, who have seen enormous success with mobile money initiatives – which process transactions worth nearly one-half of the country’s GDP annually – have begun to roll out a number of micro-insurance products.

In July of last year mobile operator Airtel Kenya announced a partnership to offer three insurance products starting­­ at KSh250 ($2.50) per month, partnering with MicroEnsure for processes and Pan Africa Life Assurance – now rebranded to Sanlam Kenya – for underwriting.

By August of this year, Sanlam announced that it had upgraded its systems with the aim to introduce life insurance and other technology-driven products via a mobile platform. The timeline for product launch to the general market, however, has yet to be disclosed.

This comes on the back of efforts by the government to also expand participation in public coverage schemes through mobile phones. In 2010 the government-run National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) – which is already obligatory for salaried employees – signed a partnership with mobile operator Safaricom to allow the self-employed and informally employed to pay health insurance premiums using M-Pesa.

Beyond mobile

Providers are also looking to bundle micro-insurance products with other services, such as health care savings accounts or loans, and SMS-based engagement.

Jacaranda Health, which specialises in low-cost maternal health care, has had success sending checklists and reminders to patients to help manage post-natal care from a distance.

Meanwhile, M-Tiba – a mobile health wallet programme developed by Safaricom, CarePay, PharmaAccess and UAP insurance – enables users to receive funds and make payments for health care services rendered at facilities within its growing network.

A bonus scheme funded by the Pfizer Foundation also encourages users to save for future health care costs, with the first 100,000 M-Tiba users who deposit KSh100 ($1) or more per month into the e-wallet receiving a monthly payment of KSh50 ($0.50) for up to one year, according to media reports.

Telemedicine

New technologies are also being tested to potentially help expand access to care in remote areas. Seven Seas Technologies, for example, a Nairobi-based ICT solutions provider in health care and social services, is working with the private sector and government to gather data on health to develop a more data-focused decision making approach to health care.

“IT solutions, such as telemedicine, and data aggregation, are possible methods for developing tailored strategies for preventive medicine specifically targeted at Kenya’s unique health profile,” Mike Macharia, founder and group CEO of Seven Seas, told OBG.

These sorts of initiatives have the potential to play a key role in helping bridge the current limited access Kenyans have to health care outside the major urban areas.

Historically, secondary and tertiary facilities have absorbed 70% of the health budget, even though in remote rural areas primary care facilities serve a crucial function; as a result, the quality of health provision is heavily dependent on location. With around 75% of Kenyans living in rural areas, a shift of investment towards IT solutions, including telemedicine, could produce a dramatic improvement in health care outcomes. 

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