Interview with Dr. Precious Lunga: Digitalizing Health Services to Bridge Africa’s Access Divide

Dr. Precious Lunga, CEO and Co-Founder of Baobab Circle, talks to COVID-19 Africa Watch about how closing the healthcare access gap through digitalization.

Interview

Key Takeaways

The following are a few of the main takeaways from COVID-19 Africa Watch’s conversation with Dr. Precious Lunga, CEO & Co-Founder, Baobab Circle:

  • Mobile technology can help bridge the access divide for patients, including those with chronic health conditions that increase the mortality risk of COVID-19.
  • Mobile technology is also particularly valuable as an educational tool.
  • The Africa Medical Supplies Platform is helping ensure access to testing supplies and PPE as African countries join together to approach suppliers.

The interview was conducted by Joseph Medzano, an IFC-Milken Institute Capital Market Scholar from the Ministry of Finance & Economic Development of Zimbabwe. A transcript is available below.

Transcript

Interviewer

My name is Joseph Medzano, I work at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development of Zimbabwe, and I am an alumnus of the IFC-Milken Institute Capital Markets Program. Today. I am delighted to welcome Dr. Precious Lunga, who is an epidemiologist and CEO and Co-Founder of Baobab Circle, a technology company delivering innovative solutions via mobile phones across Africa. Dr. Lunga is also working closely with Strive Masiyiwa and the African Union to develop the Africa Medical Supplies Platform in response to COVID-19.

Dr. Lunga, could you briefly tell us about Baobab Circle, the award-winning technology company, which you have established?

Dr. Lunga

Thank you for those kind words.

Baobab Circle is a health tech company, and our mission is to deliver health services using digital to bridge the gap, to bridge the access divide. What does that mean? It means that people will have access to health services at home so that if you live with a chronic health condition, you be able to stay on top of it, it will help because you will be able to access a doctor and any other type of health professional, and have support in terms of taking your medications. And you will also really be empowered to do the right things for your health.

Interviewer

In the wake of COVID-19, how have you positioned such a wonderful project, especially given your vision of providing these personalized health management solutions for growing issues of chronic disease across Africa?

Dr. Lunga

You know, it is really interesting, what COVID-19 highlighted is that actually the health of one affects us all. It is a pandemic that swept across the globe and actually the people most affected are the people who are living with chronic health conditions. So if you have diabetes or hypertension, you are at highest risk of having severe COVID, so what we have done as part of our COVID-response is to open up our platform to make sure that as many people as possible who have this condition can use a platform and access it, so they can still get the medical oversight that they need in the safety of their home and that they get the information that is really relevant to them and how they can prevent COVID-19 and how they can actually be aware of what the symptoms are. And as you know, we are actually learning about this disease all the time, and we making sure that the people who use our service stay on top of this.

Interviewer

That is great. In terms of penetrating and achieving your vision in Africa, if you were to rate Baobab Circle on scale of a one to ten, where can you put yourself?

Dr. Lunga

Well, we have pioneered actually this approach of personalized/chronic health in Africa, because traditionally, obviously the focus has been on infectious diseases. So in terms of being a pioneer, we are right at the top; in terms of the vision of where we want to be, we want to be across Africa. They are 1.2 billion people. We want to have them all to have access to our service.

Interviewer

Excellent. Dr. Lunga, I understand you have been an advisor to Dr. Strive Masiyiwa in developing a wonderful platform, which is the African Medical Supplies platform, to help fight COVID-19. Would you briefly tell us about this platform?

Dr. Lunga

First off, I just want to say that the African Medical Supplies platform is a symbol of the leadership that the African Union, by appointing Strive Masiyiwa as a Special Envoy, has delivered. He brought together companies across Africa. So we have Janngo, we also VAYA, and Baobab Circle to deliver this platform. UNECA’s been involved, and of course, the Afrexim Bank have been doing the financial transaction part.

And the purpose of it was that actually earlier on in the pandemic, African countries were finding it very difficult to access essential commodities, testing supplies and PPE, which are essential for fighting COVID-19. In order to actually tackle COVID-19, you need to be able to test. Because you can test, you can trace, you can track, and you can treat; then we can stop the pandemic in its steps. And we know that our health systems cannot cope with a huge epidemic.

“What COVID-19 has taught us is that health system resilience is the job of everyone.”

The platform created a marketplace where manufacturers and countries can then be brought together and have access. And the genius of it actually is that it pulls together the demand from different countries. So you can have for example South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana pulling together to make an order, so that the order for suppliers becomes larger.

Interviewer

Dr. Lunga, before we close, do you have any final thoughts which you may want to share with our viewers?

Dr. Lunga

Yes. What COVID-19 has taught us is that health system resilience is the job of everyone. So the public sector, the private sector and the communities come together, and at Baobab Circle, we are harnessing the power of digital to support health system resilience by providing services for people with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension who are at highest risk of severe COVID-19.

Interviewer

Thank you so much. Dr. Lunga, Milken Institute thank you once again for this insightful work which you are doing. And I know this will be very precious to our viewers. Please keep up the good work you are doing together with Dr Strive Masiyiwa. Goodbye and stay safe.

Dr. Lunga

Thank you very much for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

More analysis from COVID-19 Africa Watch:

COVID-19 Africa Watch tracks major developments and policy announcements from across the continent and also offers a curated selection of analysis on how the pandemic will impact African economies and development efforts. The site is a project of the Milken Institute’s Global Market Development Practice.

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via COVID-19 Africa Watch