KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • Digital health startups are flocking to Africa to pick up the slack of its typically underserved and overworked health system.
  • One player is Babylon, a London-based digital health app that allows patients to undergo virtual consolutions with healthcare professionals at an affordable rate.
  • The portability of its offering could offer earlier access to treatment and ultimately save lives, especially in rural regions.

Founded in 2014, Babylon enables users to obtain virtual consultations with doctors and healthcare professionals via text and video messaging through a mobile app. It operates the GP at Hand service in the U.K., which gives users access to an NHS GP. Investors include Hoxton Ventures, Kinnevik AB, and the creators of Google DeepMind.

Founder Ali Parsa claims that Babylon is the beginning of the end for the old fashioned way the world uses healthcare. Since 2016, Babylon has provided consultations via its Babel app to Rwandans. It partners with Rwanda’s regionally managed health insurance schemes, the Mutuelles de Santé. Users pay FRw500, which is about 58¢, per consultation.

They simply call a number to book an appointment, undergo the assessment over the phone, first by a nurse and then if necessary with a doctor, and are treated digitally or referred to specialist. The app generates unique codes which patients use to pick up prescription drugs or to request lab tests at a Babel partner lab center.

Babel’s business model remediates to some extent the lack of access to doctors, especially in rural areas, and could save countless lives through earlier access to treatment. Additionally, it prevents patients from clogging up specialist centers not intended to treat simple ailments — injecting some efficiency into the system overall. However, with Rwanda’s per capita income at just $1,760 on a purchasing-power-parity (PPP) basis, it could be a while before Babylon makes a profit.

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