It has been a frantic last few weeks for Ghanaian e-health startup Redbird, which came third at the local leg of the DEMO Africa Innovation Tour and also raised funding from Atlanta-based impact investor Gray Matters Capital.
Not bad for a business that only launched earlier this year. But Redbird is tackling a big problem, and has big plans.
Millions of Africans live with chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes, without a convenient way to manage their health. And every year, millions more develop chronic diseases, at twice the world average in the case of diabetes.
“Chronic diseases are not just a future problem,” Redbird chief executive officer (CEO) Patrick Beattie told Disrupt Africa.
“In Ghana, chronic disease already accounts for the half of the health burden. Chronic disease patients require not just treatment, but also lifelong health monitoring to remain healthy and productive. Appallingly, the only current solution for a health checkup is to travel to, and wait at, a hospital. This ordeal that typically takes half the day, even without considering transportation time.”
He said patients simply do not have the ability to spend this much time on getting checkups, forcing them to risk “terrifying” health outcomes associated with ignoring chronic disease.
“Patients desperately need accessible, convenient ways to monitor and manage their health,” said Beattie.
Redbird aims to provide just that, enabling pharmacies and chemists to perform on-site rapid testing for the diagnosis and monitoring of health conditions. It offers patients a wide range of health monitoring services with the benefits of convenience and affordability as they can get rapid diagnostic tests done via pharmacies.
“Redbird is developing a network of convenient locations for personal health monitoring and primary care diagnosis within existing independent pharmacies,” said Beattie.
The startup brings pharmacies into its network with a ready-to-implement solution for offering rapid diagnostic services, comprising a suite of verified rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs), staff training on the proper performance and interpretation of the RDTs, and Redbird’s health monitoring software, which links all partner pharmacies so that patients see a unified network, providing identical, high-quality service.
Beattie met co-founder Andrew Quao, a Ghanaian pharmacist, at a health hackathon at Impact Hub Accra in 2016. While working at Diagnostics For All, Beattie had realised there was a market failure keeping new and existing technologies from being fully utilised. In parallel, Quao was travelling Ghana and seeing hospitals overburdened with patients to the point of either not being able to see them or being forced to provide sub-optimal care. Both of them saw that while infectious diseases grabbed headlines, chronic diseases were quickly taking over the disease burden.
“Coming together we realised we had a problem and a solution – leverage existing, approved rapid test technology that is underutilised to create convenient health monitoring points for routine health questions, alleviating pressure on overburdened physicians,” said Beattie.
“Others are trying to create convenient health options, especially for chronic disease, but focus on technology-heavy solutions. These solutions carry high technology risk and rely on significant behavior change by patients and doctors. Redbird excels by matching current behaviours as closely as possible, encouraging health monitoring at greatly reduced technology risk.”
Redbird has partnered with two pharmacies in the Accra area, but fresh from pitching successes and with funding in hand will look to scale to 30 additional community pharmacies over the next three months.
“We’re currently exploring product-market fit in the Ghana market, with an eye for broader expansion regionally and beyond. Initial feedback from pharmacists, potential customers, and physicians has been very positive,” Beattie said.
“As a team with deep knowledge in healthcare, we understand that it is not an area that one rushes into. Instead, one needs to make sure one has the appropriate agreements and safety provisions in place, which, by its nature, takes more time. But that’s also what makes working in healthcare so rewarding.”