Doctor’s Orders: The Nigerian Changing The Narrative Of Healthcare 

Peace Hyde
Published 2 months ago
Screenshot 2022-11-07 at 19.27.27

Funmi Adewara, the founder-CEO of Mobihealth International, is changing the narrative of Africa’s ailing healthcare sector, so critical in these times.

DR FUNMI ADEWARA VIVIDLY REMEMBERS the first time she had a near-death experience in Kaduna State in Northern Nigeria.

At the time, her mother who had five children to care for, was employed as a nurse in the state hospital. On that fateful day, Adewara, who at the time was only 10 years old, had been in and out of hospital for her ailment for some time, but things took a turn for the worse and she needed immediate medical intervention.

“I was gravely ill and I was confronted by the fact that at that time the doctors were on strike and my life hung on the line,” recalls Adewara. Luckily, her mother’s position as a nurse in the hospital meant that she was able to pull some strings and get a doctor and colleagues to come in during the strike to the hospital to save her daughter’s life. From that experience on, Adewara’s fate in the medical profession was sealed.

“I was privileged to see the very dire situation of the health system in Nigeria. I would see doctors overworked and I remember very well the smell of the hospital corridors and multiple surgeries that I had to have as a young child. Sometimes when I was in admission, I would hear the wailing and crying of mothers who lost their children, or family members and that experience challenged me and fueled my passion to study medicine because I wanted to be able to help those who were vulnerable in the community,” says Adewara in an interview with FORBES AFRICA.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is facing a health crisis.

“When you have the president of your country spending some 200 days in the UK for medical reasons it begs the question; if the President of our country does not trust the medical system in Nigeria, why should the citizens, let alone Nigerian doctors, also care?” asks Philip Amosu, a Nigerian neurosurgeon who currently works in the United States.

Official figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates Nigeria’s doctor-to-population ratio at 0.3 per 1,000 persons. For a population of nearly 200 million, Adewara thinks this is inadequate and unacceptable.

“I was aware that more than half of doctors in Nigeria are outside the country. Nigeria has over 35,000 Nigerian doctors spread across the world and we only have 74,000 registered doctors and half of us
are outside the country. With a population of about 200 million, if you compare that to the US who have about 1.5 million registered doctors, you realize how dire the situation is. So, I was looking for a way to make a difference,” avers Adewara.

Her solution? Mobihealth, a telemedicine and digital health service provider transforming the way patients access and receive care. Adewara is one of the thousands of doctors who left Nigeria in search of greener pastures. But that decision never quite sat well with her.

“Nigeria has a huge shortage of doctors and many counterfeit medicines. When I finished my youth service, it was always my dream to leave the country in search of greener pastures and to gain international experience and expertise to help me come back and give back to Africa.”

She joined the NHS in the UK after passing her exams as a stroke physician but her reputation as a leading medical practitioner in Nigeria meant that she was still providing consultation services to people back home.

“I was aware that more than half of doctors in Nigeria are outside the country. Nigeria has over 35,000 Nigerian doctors spread across the world and we only have 74,000 registered doctors and half of us
are outside the country. With a population of about 200 million, if you compare that to the US who have about 1.5 million registered doctors, you realize how dire the situation is. So, I was looking for a way to make a difference,” avers Adewara.

Her solution? Mobihealth, a telemedicine and digital health service provider transforming the way patients access and receive care. Adewara is one of the thousands of doctors who left Nigeria in search of greener pastures. But that decision never quite sat well with her.

“Nigeria has a huge shortage of doctors and many counterfeit medicines. When I finished my youth service, it was always my dream to leave the country in search of greener pastures and to gain international experience and expertise to help me come back and give back to Africa.”

She joined the NHS in the UK after passing her exams as a stroke physician but her reputation as a leading medical practitioner in Nigeria meant that she was still providing consultation services to people back home.

“People used to ask me for second opinions because they probably didn’t believe what their doctors were saying and it was coming quite often. I had a case where a child was misdiagnosed and died. Ihad an uncle who suddenly died because he was not aware he had high blood pressure and he got to the hospital, there were no doctors in sight. So, things like that is what spurred me to look for an innovative way to make an impact,” says Adewara.

“When I started, telemedicine was not popular. I remember when I was trying to mobilize the doctors and whenever I got into a room and asked if anyone knew about telemedicine, it was immediately less than one percent of the audience. It is very interesting to see where we are four years on.

“The first challenge was technology. I was looking for a solution that wasn’t just going to be a cut-and-paste from the West. We have our peculiar problems and challenges in Africa and unless you understand that, you will not be able to make an impact,” says Adewara.

She created a solution that spoke to the real challenges on the ground and addressed issues like the lack of health insurance to millions of patients in Nigeria.

“The solutions that already existed on the market were too pricey and I couldn’t find the perfect match and the viability of it in Africa. You are speaking about a continent where 95% don’t have access to health insurance and it is a problem that leads people into poverty,” says Adewara.

The challenge was that most of the solutions that already existed on the market from a telemedicine perspective did not see a compelling reason to expand their offerings to Africa. The only

According to the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigerians spent a staggering $39.66 billion on foreign education and healthcare-related services between 2010 and 2020. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) asserts that over $1 billion was spent by Nigerians yearly on medicare abroad, leading to an adverse effect on the nation’s health system. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 24% of the global burden of disease is in Africa with only 3% access to health workers.

This makes Adewara’s Mobihealth a much-needed reprieve for those needing urgent access to quality medical professionals.

“Because I was already consulting with people on the phone, I saw this as an opportunity to use technology to make a difference. I did my research and found out that Africa is one of the fastest-growing markets in mobile technology adoption. So, why can’t we use that to create a solution where people can access these diaspora doctors and be able to get instant care and that was what led to founding Mobihealth,” says Adewara.

With a background in bioscience enterprise from Cambridge University, she had the know-how to bring scientific innovation at scale to the masses and that is what Mobihealth is all about.

But it has not been an easy journey to get the fledgling startup off the ground. solution for Adewara was to create her own solution. After its beta test, Mobihealth was launched commercially in 2019 and deployed immediately to support the Covid-19 response.

“People were scared to go to the testing centers and we used the platform to deliver contactless Covid tests. We would screen them on the

platform and provide remote consultation and we would dispatch our drivers who deliver the test contactless. We also have a video call to discuss with the client and with that intervention we reduced the turnover time for results to 24 hours instead of three to four days. And this was published in the ‘International Medical Journal’,” says Adewara.

Nigeria’s healthcare budget is less than 5%, according to Adewara. This means that more than 70% of the population have no access to healthcare and that, compounded with the critical issue of shortage of doctors, means there has to be more innovative solutions to reach those in vulnerable conditions.

Her solution has currently been deployed to seven states and in remote areas where there are no doctors, Mobihealth provides computers that enable patients to immediately see and speak to overseas doctors in their local language.

And her solution could not have come at a better time. Over the past few weeks alone, Adewara asserts that over 200 Nigerian doctors have been registered in the UK, with Nigerians topping the list of migrant NHS nurses in the UK.

Not much has changed in the Nigerian healthcare sector since Adewara left some 15 years ago and with the WHO’s estimation that it will take about 10 decades, even if all things were right to get to the doctors-to-population ratio, her work is more vital than ever.