Nigerian Digital Healthcare Startup Helps Triage COVID-19 Cases
Dr. Wale Adeosun is co-founder of Wellvis, a Lagos-based online health information and services platform, one of the few on the continent. In this interview with Africa Renewal’s Pavithra Rao, Dr. Adeosun explains how his start-up works and how it has shifted its approach since COVID-19 broke out, by providing an online tool for users to self-assess their risk of infection and receive information on what to do next:
Africa Renewal: What led you to co-founding Wellvis?
Dr. Adesoun: As a medical doctor, I get calls and text messages from friends, former schoolmates and relatives asking for advice on health situations; what over-the-counter medications to take, what specialist to see and where they can be found. Sometimes they want clarification regarding drug combinations or just to get a second opinion. Most times they just want a health rumour debunked.
Not everyone has direct access to doctors or other health workers. I can imagine the millions of people who have to deal with wrong, unhelpful and sometimes outrightly harmful health ‘advice’.
Lack of access to verified health information, coupled with ignorance and poverty can be found at the root of most illnesses, especially in this part of the world and this is why we started Wellvis.
When exactly did you start Wellvis?
The team got together in 2018, tested a version of the platform but launched the product to the general public in 2019. We are building Wellvis as a comprehensive telehealth solutions platform, with the intention to become the most useful and helpful health information and service platform for Africans.
What services do you offer?
Various features are available on Wellvis, both online and offline; the Question and Answer platform aims to improve access to quality health information and to encourage the patient’s active engagement using a crowd-sourced forum model. Questions are asked on the platform, openly or anonymously, at no cost. Answers are provided by healthcare workers.
We also offer a premium option of a direct one-on-one online consultation with verified health workers, appointment bookings and reminders for physical consultation with specialists and for lab investigations. We also have a portal to access curated health services and products at a discount.
How are you helping fight COVID-19?
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have been sensitizing the public on how to stay safe and minimize infections. When it became apparent that it was within our borders, we increased the dissemination of preventive measures from relevant public health agencies via various digital
media channels. We decided to layer a tool over our existing platform to help people understand their risks and subsequently get the necessary information.
What is the triage tool all about?
The Wellvis COVID-19 Triage Tool was designed using the official case definition by the Nigeria Centre of Disease Control (NCDC). It uses responses to clinical and epidemiological questions to categorize users into low, medium and high risk. Each risk category is then educated on the appropriate next steps, as described by the NCDC.
We believe the tool has helped to reduce the number of curious calls to disease control hotlines, thereby allowing persons who have been exposed to the virus to reach the authorities faster, while also providing quick risk assessments, education, and decision making on COVID-19 to users.
How do you deal with data cost, payments, billing? What about the issues of trust and misdiagnosis?
Communities without enough data and cellphone service will continue to be left out from accessing essential digital services like ours. Unfortunately, we are unable to do much about that. However, we have plans for outreach programs that require sustainable funding to take frequent and regular health programs closer to such communities. Planning is ongoing, and hopefully, with support from our partners and data/reports from these outreaches. We intend to pressurize the government and telco companies to begin to look at those communities for infrastructure improvement.
On billing and payments, we have leveraged existing fintech solutions to ease payment for direct conversations with doctors. There was a reluctance to move interactions with health practitioners from physical to digital, however, we have started to see an increase in the request for telemedicine services, especially for non-urgent primary care.
What are your future plans, post COVID-19?
We will continue to improve on our platform, developing features and utilities to help people get easier access to health information, advice and health workers on demand.
How the Wellvis COVID-19 triage app works:
· An online user calls in.
· The COVID-19 triage app helps the online user anonymously assess their risk of COVID-19 infection by answering a series of questions ranging from an individual’s COVID-19 exposure to symptoms that are being experienced.
· Based on answers provided, the online user is advised whether or not to self-quarantine or seek further assistance via medical hotlines that are provided in five countries so far: Nigeria, Cameroon, the Gambia, Ghana and Kenya.
· The screening tool is currently available in five languages – English, French, Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba.
· Through Wellvis online users can also procure an appointment with a medical specialist who will then remotely conduct an assessment.