About four years ago, one of Tafadzwa Munzwa’s cousins became pregnant. Ultimately, she and her baby were ok, but Munzwa was alarmed by the poor quality of the care she received.

That experience was Munzwa’s first real look at the difficulty women faced getting top-quality maternal health care in Zambia, where they lived, and other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. So, around two years ago, he co-founded DawaHealth to develop a screening, profiling and management maternal healthcare tool to address the high number of pregnancy and childbirth-related complications leading to maternal deaths in the region. “We’re democratizing access to maternal health care,” he says.

“We’re democratizing access to maternal health care,” he says.

Preventable Complications

Munzwa’s vision for the company rested on a few issues. One was the high number of deaths from preventable pregnancy and childbirth-related complications in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia—two-thirds of total global deaths. The other: The considerable number of healthcare workers in Sub-Saharan Africa who aren’t employed, thanks to budget constraints; those healthcare workers who are employed are so overworked, they’re unable to provide high-quality care. At the same time, most middle-and-low-income families, struggling to make ends meet, can’t afford health insurance.

His answer was to build a platform that, basically, creates remote clinics in communities by tapping that army of unemployed and underemployed first-level clinicians in the region, allowing them to provide support to patients where they live.

Specifically, a network of in-the-field healthcare workers receive kits with mobile tools to take with them during twice monthly visits. With those devices, they assess their patients’ condition and then upload the information into the platform to be evaluated by a central medical team. High-risk patients are referred to the nearest health outposts.

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Medical kits include such devices as blood pressure and hemoglobin monitors and latex gloves, to name a few examples. The company also provides tools for screening infants for congenital or prenatal infections, plus portable ultrasound scans and tablets. Before beginning their work with patients, healthcare agents receive training on their mobile devices.

In addition, pregnant women and nursing mothers get access via mobile devices to weekly health support in a language of their choice to help them identity potentially urgent health conditions in between visits. (It’s also available via a web portal and text/audio chatbot).

Mothers pay a small fee—four times cheaper than private healthcare, according to Munzwa—and clinicians pay a monthly subscription for the medical kits.

Dual Function

In the process, the platform, called DawaMom, performs a dual function: providing urgent, affordable healthcare to women and creating a source of income for unemployed clinicians. Healthcare agents get paid for the women they refer to the platform, as well as for patient assessments and examinations. Mothers receive a discount when they refer someone else to the program. And, according to the company, health services are 50% cheaper than those provided by regular facilities.

So far, the company has helped about 4,000 mothers through a pilot, according to Munzwa. For the next five years, he plans to focus on expanding the company’s maternal care footprint to other regions. By 2027, the goal is to reach about 40% of pregnant women and nursing mothers in Southern Africa. Eventually he wants to expand to other conditions, like sickle cell anemia.

DawaHealth was recently chosen as one of MIT Solve’s 40 2022 Solver Teams, winning $10,000, plus enrollment in a nine-month mentorship program. Thanks to the visibility and support of that award, the company also was one of five teams recently selected for the The Health Access Prize supported by Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures, a fund within the Johnson & Johnson Foundation. The winners were awarded $175,000 in total.

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