AsianScientist (May. 15, 2021) – In rural and lower-income communities around the world, the proverbial saying “health is wealth” takes on a grim reality. Between paying hospital bills and medication fees, an estimated 100 million people annually are driven to poverty from out-of-pocket expenses for health services.
While some fret between receiving treatment and putting food on the table, others are blocked by distance to healthcare providers and the lack of transportation options.
In the Philippines, for example, the nearest medical facility averages over six kilometers away from the center of the 10 most populated provinces. That figure doubles for all other municipalities on average, and with the country’s archipelagic structure, some islands are as far as 40 kilometers from the nearest hospital, requiring travel by boat.
Whether due to geographical barriers or high costs, healthcare services remain inaccessible to 52 percent of the world’s population. Spurred by these needs, the aptly-named reach52 was founded by CEO Mr. Edward Booty, aiming to bring innovative digital health platforms to underserved groups in low- and middle-income countries.
Even before the pandemic prompted the rise of telemedicine, reach52 was already championing the digitization of healthcare to broaden the medical sector’s scope and impact. The digital divide, however, posed a problem, as disadvantaged families typically lacked access to Internet and had difficulties navigating the digital domain.
“We started off with a direct-to-customer app and it didn’t work,” said Booty. “Often those with the most complex health needs, such as older people with complex health conditions, can’t be reached through digital channels.”
Built with these resource-constrained environments in mind, the current reach52 app is an offline-first platform, noted Booty. It functions perfectly well without reliable internet coverage and only needs to connect once in a while for uploading and syncing data.
Trained to use the app, community members are in charge of profiling the health of other residents, running public health campaigns and connecting residents to primary healthcare providers.
According to Booty, these access managers—most of whom are women—add a personal touch to their programs, going door-to-door and promoting health awareness among community residents. Instead of having individuals jump through hoops to seek medical services, reach52 is bringing healthcare to those who need them the most.
To further support these local health systems, Booty and his team have created a data analytics platform to better understand the health needs of the communities they serve. Insights generated are used to develop more effective interventions, ranging from relevant training sessions for healthcare workers to on-the-ground strategies for administering medications.
Because increasing healthcare access takes a village, Booty shared that reach52 works with pharmaceutical companies and medical technology ventures to deliver their products directly to rural and remote areas. Besides saving travel time, their novel distribution models also ensure affordability of the medical services, with the startup backed by investors such as the Verge HealthTech Fund.
By empowering community health workers, reach52’s digital health platforms help reduce the demand for highly trained specialists to deliver healthcare services in-person.
This capacity building approach is a game-changer considering the scarcity of physicians in countries like Cambodia where the doctor-to-patient ratio stands at one in 5,000—well below the World Health Organization’s recommended one in 1,000 ratio.
For Booty, these persisting gaps only mean that there is much work left to be done. To ensure the sustainability of their endeavors, he is also eyeing partnerships with more financial technology companies to support the growth of reach52 moving forward.
“Most of our communities are unbanked, making delivering any other service—such as paying for medicine—harder and riskier. We need to invest in fintech and insurance, which when combined with our offline-first digital platform, gives us the foundations we need to scale,” he explained.
While reach52 already serves over three million people in the Philippines, Cambodia and India, Booty hopes to expand their projects to five more countries from Senegal to Indonesia in the next few years.
Through these continued efforts, the reach52 network is making headway in striking down the 52 percent to a much lower figure—turning the vision of equitable healthcare into a reality.
“I’d like to see us supporting 50 million people accessing healthcare, working with every major global health company and giving a unique ecosystem that can provide health for all,” concluded Booty.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine.
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