In order to combat chronic illnesses such as cancer and diabetes in less developed countries, work is needed to raise general awareness of the problems of poor nutrition. Mobile technology could provide a solution.

Foyo SMS and TV Health Advice Helping to Combat Common Illnesses in Rwanda

The priority of the National Action Plan being run by the Ministry of Health in Rwanda is to eliminate malnutrition. A first step is to make the population more aware of the issues from a very young age. The fact is that a number of chronic illnesses which are directly linked to poor nutrition are not actually recognised as such by most Rwandans, who think these maladies are highly specific or affect only people from developed countries. At the Seedstars World 2014 (SSW 2014) final which took place in Geneva in early February, L'Atelier met up with Aphrodice Mutangana, Managing Director of the startup Foyo Group Ltd, which won the SSW competition in Kigali. He explained that “there are very few specialised doctors in Africa compared with the number of people who are ill, so what we’re trying to do is to enable a link between patients and doctors.” To create this link, Mr Mutangana is launching services designed to provide people suffering from particular medical conditions with information about the diet they ought to be following.  These services comprise the Foyo m-Health app and the Foyo t-Health television programme.

m-Health app designed to raise general awareness            

Mobile has emerged as the medium with the greatest potential for this kind of health advice. Explains Aphrodice Mutangana: “62.8% of the Rwandan population use a mobile device, which means we can reach a large number of patients through that channel.” Patients who subscribe to the app will receive on a daily basis an SMS recommending a balanced diet suited to their particular illness. Perhaps the most promising idea however is that in a second phase Foyo m-Health will provide an interactive platform for dialogue between patients and specialist doctors. Among the chronic illnesses that the platform will focus on are certain forms of cancer, cardiac problems, diabetes, obesity, AIDS and hepatitis. However the app also provides for monitoring of pregnant women, older people and infants, and can also answer questions from people who simply want to know more about given health issues. The Foyo founder stresses that the company’s primary goal is to “educate the population.” In order to attract the widest possible audience, Mutangana has set himself various challenges, including "bringing the cost of an SMS down to the very minimum – to RWF 65, which is about 9 US cents.”

Health advice TV show

As a second way of spreading awareness and fostering access to information and advice on health issues, Foyo has also developed a short-format TV show, Foyo t-Health. These programmes feature a range of illnesses and explain how to prevent or treat them.  Mutangana points out: “Many people in Rwanda and a number of other African countries are illiterate. A TV programme can help to raise awareness among these people too.” He adds that “there is much to do in Africa. New technologies are being developed and we should see this as an opportunity for the health sector there.” He has high hopes for his project, is confident that Foyo has much to contribute in Africa and has already signed a partnership to introduce the services in neighbouring Burundi.  In fact Africa was very well represented among the finalists at the SSW 2014 event. Richard Tanksley, who runs a startup incubator in Ghana, insisted that the continent is open to innovation. “There is no reason why Africa should be left out of the ‘disruptive change’ process now taking place. On the contrary, Africa has all the potential to become a real player in this process,” he argued.