Making healthcare affordable and accessible to all
By the time Dr. Moka Lantum saw the patient, a six month-old baby boy, the child had been sick for days. The baby’s worried mother showed up with her child at 8:00 on the morning Lantum was visiting the clinic. The previous diagnosis had been malaria, but the mother knew it had to be something else. She was right. Lantum diagnosed the child with meningitis, a disease that, if gone untreated for too long carries risks of serious complications, including brain damage. Lantum wrote a prescription for an antibiotic, which the mother dutifully carried to the nearest pharmacy to get filled. But when she got to the pharmacy, the pharmacist told her that they didn’t have the medicine she needed, and that she’d have to go to the hospital, which was two hours away.
The good news was that the hospital had the medicine. The bad news was that it cost a lot more than the mother had anticipated, and she didn’t have enough money with her to pay for it. By this point, it was 4:00pm, and she had to head home. She went back the next morning with enough money in hand, but this meant her baby had to go another 24 hours with untreated meningitis.
This was a humbling and pivotal moment for Lantum. He had been working on a system to fix broken supply chains for essential drugs through a data and technology platform he had developed. But this experience made him stop and reflect.
He realized the technology platform had to be so much more. Nurses and doctors need a system that would help them make better clinical and administrative decisions. And patients needed a system that would help them make better decisions, too. The questions of whether a medicine or treatment is safe, affordable, and available are often not easy to answer.
“These women are smart, but they just don’t always have the information they need to make the best decisions,” Lantum said. Empowering mothers to take charge of their health and the health of their children is central to Microclinic Technologies’ mission.
How Microclinic Technologies is addressing healthcare access, affordability, and safety in rural Kenya
Lantum believes that healthcare solutions have to be market-based and sustainable to create the right incentives.
According to Lantum, the average healthcare worker in Kenya is overburdened. Their training is on the clinical side of these issues, but about 50 percent of their job involves administrative tasks like entering in patient data and prescription information into outdated systems that actually decrease the efficiency of the supply chain. Microclinic Technologies uses ZiDi, a tablet-based software program, to look at data and create a management system that will help the clinic make good decisions, and help pharmacies keep better inventories to reduce the shortage of essential medicines and prevent people from turning to illicit sources for these medicines.
Nurses and doctors enter each patient’s data and details of treatment onto ZiDi before uploading it for cloud storage. The patient’s information is then immediately available for subsequent clinic visits, and it is easier to track the inventory for drugs at each clinic. According Lantum, “A detailed report of projected inventory needs is generated instantaneously and made available to the national drugs supply agency, KEMSA (Kenya Medical Supplies Agency). This ensures that KEMSA-supplied essential drugs only exit the supply chain through a proper diagnosis and prescription at the point of care.”
Microclinic Technologies is working to introduce ZiDi to the growing number of clinics that specifically serve people living in the most remote parts of the country who typically don’t have access to healthcare.
But Lantum is concerned about more than outputs. He’s also invested in ensuring that the system is about people first. It must make it easier to translate symptoms into diagnoses as well. It must provide patients with a better experience at the clinic. And it must transform the way that doctors interact with their patients.
A great idea does not guarantee great success. For social entrepreneurs like Lantum, a minimum viable product is a combination of factors like inventory, technology, quality of health care, etc., not just one innovation. “Social innovation is how you combine those things,” Lantum said when he identified four major challenges that he faces as an entrepreneur.
Structural constraints in financial institutions. Lantum mentioned a lack of tax incentives for companies wanting to serve the poor. He also stated that banks treat social entrepreneurs like any other business, when because of their double bottom line, it takes them a little longer to start seeing the returns that enterprises focused only on the business side of things face. He also mentioned that despite having a social mission, entrepreneurs still have to pay for internet, which is not necessarily cheap or reliable.
Getting early-stage capital can be tough. He is often told to show investors the impact, but there’s only so much impact he can show before he gets the capital he needs to show investors that his business model is viable, scalable, and makes a difference in people’s lives. The old adage of “it takes money to make money” holds true. Social enterprises in Kenya need more early-stage investors to show their impact. And more local investors are needed to also make the product sustainable.
Cultural and knowledge constraints. Investors are often looking for “Lone Rangers” or “shooting stars,” but few people have the connections or know-how to make it, even if they have a product or solution that’s making a real difference. In addition, for anything that involves tech-based solutions in rural areas, there are so many factors that cannot be taken for granted: like reliable internet or mobile service and that people will know how to use smartphone and tablet technology.
For solutions focused on public goods like education or health, there is a huge challenge in working with public institutions. Entrepreneurs often don’t know how to pitch to government officials or work within government structures, and the government is still figuring out how to work well and efficiently with the private sector. Given that the public sector is often the largest consumer of and distributor of products working to improve public health, it’s important to be able to build effective public-private partnerships.
Despite not being able to control these factors, Lantum heeds his calling to be out in front of this proverbial train. And knowing that he’s not alone helps keep him motivated. Surrounding himself with a great team of people who believe in what they’re doing has been a huge help. Being part a part of networks like Ashoka and knowing that other organizations are out there working to help break down these barriers encourages him. And seeing how the work of Microclinic Technologies and the Microclinic 2020 Initiative is making a difference in people’s lives inspires him. Because, ultimately, social entrepreneurship is about helping people.