In Kenya, digital platforms like M-Tiba allow people to save money on their phone and pay for healthcare treatment at a distance – crucial at a time where health officials call for as much “social distancing” as possible. The system allows health data to be transmitted anonymously, so health authorities can spot trends and try to prepare for a major outbreak.
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As Covid-19 spreads across the African continent, limited public health infrastructure has constrained countries’ capacity to test for infections and monitor the impact and reach of the pandemic. But a growing number of innovative tools are being used in Kenya, which provide valuable information where health data is lacking.
The mobile phone-based system – using SMS texts rather than 3G or 4G – manages more than just payments. Once a patient has seen a doctor, the information – from symptoms to the prescriptions given – is collected anonymously. That data is then aggregated and plotted on a map to detect any potentially worrying trends.
“We have real time visibility of diagnoses,” says Moses Kuria, Managing Director of Carepay Kenya. “So if you have fever and a cough, you go to a (M-Tiba registered) hospital, which notes the diagnosis and treatment. All of this is then digitally captured in real time.”
Federal and county governments can then use that data to determine where, for example, Covid-19 cases are concentrated. In partnerships with local authorities, Carepay can send out SMS notifications of a sudden outbreak in a given area, of curfews and the need to stay indoors, or simply disseminate tips about social distancing and hand-washing.
“The ability to see this information as it unfolds and track these diagnoses and diseases is crucial,” says Kuria, “because it allows governments to see outbreaks before they take place, and devote the necessary resources.”
Alternatives to Paper Money
In March, at the request of the Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta, telecommunications company Safaricom loosened restrictions and lowered fees on mobile money transfers to encourage the use of digital platforms and reduce the risk of transmitting the coronavirus through the handling of bank notes.
Long before the advent of this global pandemic, mobile money platforms like M-Pesa (“money” in Swahili) were already widely used in Kenya.
And with high rates of mobile phone penetration across the continent, mobile payment platforms are expanding. With M-Tiba (“medical treatment”) Carepay takes this technology to the healthcare sector.
Having set up platforms in Nigeria and Tanzania, the company connects more than 4 million customers in Kenya to some 2900 healthcare providers, many of which are in low-income areas.
Agence Française de Development has provided Carepay with repayable grants of $1.5 million (loans that become repayable only if minimum revenue targets are met).
“In Kenya, the expertise of the private sector is valued by public authorities, as they try to meet the country’s health objectives,” says Perrine Giraud, AFD’s Program Officer in Nairobi. “AFD supports innovative companies like Carepay, which coordinate the payment, provision and tracking of healthcare services in Kenya and beyond. It’s an important part of expanding healthcare coverage to people who need it.”
And the need is persistent. A 2017 World Bank report revealed that personal health spending around the world pushes some 100 million people into poverty every year.
“There are countless cases where people are forced to sell their assets, where farmers sell their cows or land to pay for healthcare,” says Moses Kuria. “So having a tool that enables you to save or send funds to family via their M-Tiba wallet, which can’t be spent on other things, that is key for people to access healthcare.”