By leveraging technology to close the gap in the Nigerian healthcare sector —a delicate space that has, for years, been haunted by various challenges including but not limited to: gross mismanagement, skilled professional deficit, poor infrastructure and epic poverty, especially amongst the significant majority who live below $1 daily —Airmed, a Lagos-based healthtech startup is on a mission to change the narrative.
For Chidi Tochukwu, founder and chief executive officer, the humbling retrogressive state of the sector calls for speedy attention of both local and national stakeholders if Nigeria must be repositioned on a path towards true development that is beyond lip-service of political campaigns.
“In trying to address issues relating to medical collapse in the country, we are investing in its restoration by placingpremium on offering quality healthcare services,” said Tochukwu in an interview with Ripples Nigeria.
“We are in a crisis but it seems we are unaware. The few medical professionals we have managed to produce, for instance, are being auctioned in batches to foreign countries. We must not forget quite easy. COVID-19 exposed our deficiencies in terms of qualified healthcare experts.
“Perhaps, the media has a lot of work to do in amplifying our reality, especially the shortage that we have within the healthcare space.”
From Elfimo to Airmed
In 2020 while the world was struggling to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, Tochukwu left his role as General Manager at Elfimo, a 1987-founded pharmaceutical company, to cofound Airmed with Teslim Bello, a chartered accountant by profession, now leading Airmed’s business development team.
“The lockdown experience was a defining moment for the world. For the first time, we had the globe grounded, with no exception to even developed countries. Movement was restricted and it became difficult for people to access places and various services including medical and pharmaceutical services,” the CEO said.
“We saw the difficulties experienced by people as a result of the new challenge, especially in the area of accessing pharmacies to purchase drugs prescribed by medical doctors.
“We thought of ways to address the challenge and Airmedwas born through an initiative to use technology to connect pharmacies and make them accessible online for people to place orders from the comfort of their homes.
Airmed’s first solution prototype was built on instant messaging platforms —WhatsApp and Telegram— where users could chat vendors in real-time, place orders and receive feedbacks on their enquiries.
From a simple idea of connecting people to pharmacies, Airmed, two years later, has grown to become a fully tech-driven healthcare network providing multiple service options for individuals, organizations, and SMEs.
“Our growth has been organic. I remember how we started out. We were collecting orders via WhatsApp. We will work all day sorting out drugs and medications to be delivered. In some ways, we had limitations,” Teslim Bello, the startup’s business development officer said, relating the story of the humble beginnings of Airmed.
“Today, we have various tools, software and facilities to help us deliver better and faster,” he added.
Death Toll in Nigeria
Annually, millions of people die of preventable deaths in Nigeria with leading causes identified to include cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, unintentional injuries, diabetes, and certain infectious diseases, poor diet, wrong diagnosis, and —in some cases, these deaths are due to— sedentary lifestyle.
In 2011, World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 55 million people died worldwide, with two thirds of this group from non-communicable diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and chronic cardiovascular and lung diseases.
With Airmed’s intervention, Nigerians can bid good bye to preventable deaths as the team seeks to help people with adequate medical solutions and services that are quick to detect diseases leveraging the team’s network of partners and international experts.
Through the Airmed website, individuals can book sessions with leading medical doctors, especially foreign experts who have volunteered to consult for Airmed as the startup lead in the fight to combat preventable deaths in Africa’s largest economy, Nigeria.
“In reacting to the medical brain drain that is still ongoing, we have curated a process to ensure that these experts can still be useful to Nigerians despite their distance away from home. We have created a platform to accommodate medical doctors in the diaspora to serve on our consultancy desk,” Tochukwu said.
“We believe that if medical services can be subsidized for our people, life expectancy will improve and the economy will gain greatly from the process.”
Tochukwu describes Nigerians as “victims of the system.” According to him, Airmed is committed to ensure that people —both doctors and patients do what is expected of them to see that the world remained healthy.
“We built Airmed on the understanding that adults and children are expected to visit their doctor for regular check-ups, even if they feel healthy.
“This way, our team follows up with our users to see that they perform disease screening, identify risk factors for disease, discuss tips for a healthy and balanced lifestyle, stay up to date with immunizations and boosters, and maintain a good relationship with a healthcare provider.”
An emotional inspiration
Some years back, Tochukwu lost a 4-month child to wrong diagnosis by a medical doctor in Lagos. For long, his ailing baby was being treated for a different illness. At the eleventh hour, it was rather too late for the baby to survive. He gave up in the hands of the helpless medical personnel.
In addition to his initial medication marketplace idea, this other painful incident haunted the CEO, and thereafter inspired him to include into the bigger picture of Airmed, a section where only qualified medical experts could be consulted to avert the reoccurrence of his fate in the hands of the unprofessional medic.
Since Airmed’s launch in 2020, the company has recorded significant milestones within the shortest span of its operations. For Teslim, Airmed’s medication marketplace has grown, with impressive revenue for a new startup.
“We never envisioned ourselves growing this fast. Today, our client and customer base is growing almost daily. Through our partnership with Elfimo, we have supplied individuals and various organizations medical products including supplements, painkillers, multivitamins, children medications amongst others,” says Teslim.
“We have also partnered GIG Logistics as our delivery company so that our customers and clients can receive their orders in the shortest time possible leveraging the extensive network of the GIGL riders.
“This is important because the medical space is a very delicate ecosystem. A slight delay in the delivery of ordered drugs can be costly. Our customers like us because of our promptness and professionalism.
“Whenever we look back, we are happy to see how our team is making judicious use of funds from our various investors, and how we are fulfilling people’s medical needs.”
Airmed in 5 years
As Airmed looks to restore confidence in the way medicine is practiced in Nigeria, Tochukwu says his eyes are on Africa.
“In 5 years, Airmed as a brand should have impacted 500 million people across Africa. The bigger picture is taking Africa to a greater level. Our vision is to build a venture that will deliver affordable, qualitative medical services across the continent,” he submitted.
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