Mobile technology has been a driving force for change across the world, and nowhere has this been more apparent than in Africa. The ubiquity of mobile phones has paved the way for a wave of digital services across the continent, ranging from mobile money to e-commerce.
Healthcare, however, remains an area that is undeserved by mobile-led digital innovation. Although Nigeria is the largest mobile market in Africa, with over 200 million people owning a mobile phone or having access to one, quality healthcare remains out of reach for the most of its citizens.
Current health expenditure made up only 3% of the country's GDP in 2019, per World Bank data—compared to an average of 4.9% in sub-Saharan Africa and 9.1% in South Africa alone—resulting in a shortage of medical facilities, equipment, and skilled personnel, particularly in rural areas where the majority of Nigerians reside.
To address this gap in healthcare access, MyItura, a startup co-founded and currently bootstrapped by CEO Opeyemi Arogundade, CTO Adeolu Ogunye, Growth manager Dr Akingbola Adewunmi and Medical Lead Dr Similoluwa Oluwalana is aiming to make preventive healthcare more accessible to Nigerians by offering on-demand medical tests through mobile devices.
It’s an all-in-one platform (on both web and mobile app) that provides a simple and convenient way for people to get diagnosed, consult with doctors, and continuously keep track of their health, all on their own schedule and without having to visit a medical laboratory or hospital.
“Like most Nigerians, we each can point to someone close to us who died prematurely from a disease that might not have been a big deal if it was diagnosed and treated earlier or if they had a better sense of awareness of their health or better access to quality healthcare,” says Opeyemi, on what inspired the startup. “This is a major issue in Nigeria, and MyItura is our own approach to solving this by directly tackling the low preventive healthcare culture.”
MyItura's service is simple and straightforward. Users download the app on their smartphones, create an account, and select the type of test they want to take. A medical professional will then come to their location to collect the required samples, which are sent to a partner laboratory for analysis.
Once the test is completed, the results are uploaded to the user's MyItura account within 24 hours, which they can access through their phone or computer.
Users can choose which tests they want to order and can even get customized test packages based on their specific health needs. The platform also provides personalized health advice based on their test results, enabling them to take action to improve their health and well-being.
In addition, through MyItura's chat feature, they can continuously monitor their health and consult with top doctors across the country, all remotely.
“Itura in Yoruba means ‘good health’ or ‘comfort’. MyItura represents a way for each person to take control of ensuring their own good health. Our goal is to make it easy for every Nigerian to monitor their own health,” Opeyemi explains.
The need for MyItura's services is clear: despite being the largest economy in Africa, Nigeria still has a significant healthcare gap, with many people lacking access to basic healthcare services.
More so, the burden of non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and cancer is rising rapidly. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that non-communicable diseases account for no less than 29% of all deaths in Nigeria, with cardiovascular diseases being the leading cause of death. Many of these can be prevented if identified and treated effectively in a timely manner.
“Good health and health monitoring are important to every single person and in Nigeria, many health conditions are preventable if detected early,” Opeyemi says, speaking on what he believes to be the startup’s total addressable market. “Our goal is for our platform to be able to help every Nigerian take control of their health and stay on top of potential health problems.”
Opeyemi strongly believes that most Nigerians, and Africans at large, care a great deal about their health, but many “roadblocks”—such as a lack of trust in the system or prior negative experiences at hospitals or health centres—make it difficult for them to translate that care into actions.
“There’s also a culture of not raising alarm about your health. If a family member told me today that they were going to a hospital or clinic, my instinct is to ask “I hope there’s nothing wrong” or “I’m sorry, are you feeling sick”, even if they might in reality just be trying to go for a regular checkup,” he says. “Addressing that challenge needs to make it effortless for a person to access health services without raising alarm to others. MyItura’s approach is to remove all these key roadblocks.”
To truly penetrate the market, Opeyemi explains, affordability and accessibility are crucial. On the former, users can access a wide range of free features to continuously monitor their health as well as get a medical test for as low as N1,200 (a little over $2 using the official exchange rate) on the platform. This is done in partnership with several doctors and medical laboratories, who get a commission on each test carried out or patient catered to.
Affordability is particularly important in a country where many people live on low incomes, are without health insurance, and are often unable to afford traditional healthcare services.
In addition, MyItura can only be accessed through smartphones for now, but only about a third of Nigerians have these. Hence, the startup plans to roll out its services via USSD to circumvent the challenge of limited internet penetration, in order to capture the mass market.
MyItura also plans to partner with key entities like insurance companies and major employers in Nigeria. Opeyemi describes this plan as a “win-win” situation, particularly for insurers, as they can cheaply help their customers monitor their health, thereby incurring fewer health costs in the long run. “You can avoid large health payouts by minimizing how often customers’ health deteriorates to the point of needing expensive procedures,” he explains.
By providing affordable and accessible preventive healthcare, MyItura's platform has the potential to revolutionize preventive healthcare in Nigeria, reduce the burden of disease, and improve the overall health outcomes of Nigerians.
But its success will depend on several factors, including its ability to scale efficiently in a difficult market, establish partnerships, and maintain high-quality standards. The potential impact of the platform on preventive healthcare in Nigeria is significant, however.
By leveraging the power of mobile technology, MyItura is breaking down barriers to healthcare access and empowering Nigerians to take control of their health.