Telehealth Start-Up Bridges Healthcare Gap In Nigeria

By The Nigerian Voice
Dr. Funmi Adewara
Dr. Funmi Adewara

The founder and CEO of Mobihealth International leverages the diaspora and local doctors to deliver telemedicine and digital health services to underserved populations.

My name is Funmi Adewara, a Nigerian-British medical doctor. I was born and brought up in the northern state of Kaduna in Nigeria. I studied medicine at the University of Ibadan, some 145 kilometers north of Lagos, and the University of Cambridge in Britain, where I earned a master’s degree in bioscience enterprise.

My career spans more than 15 years working for the National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom with a stint in the pharmaceutical industry as a drug safety physician.

I founded and serve as chief executive officer of Mobihealth International, an integrated telehealth start-up. We leverage technology, the diaspora and local doctors to deliver telemedicine and digital health services through secure electronic medical record and video software.

I’m promoting access to healthcare in support of Goal 3, which seeks “to ensure healthy lives and promote the well-being of people of all ages.”

My journey thus far
Leverage mentors and other available resources to bring your ideas to life and continue to improve on them

My health challenges as a child inspired me to study medicine. I frequently visited hospitals where I met doctors who would later mentor me as I developed an interest in medicine.

Now I am rewriting the narrative of healthcare in underserved communities. I have led a multi-disciplinary team to design a comprehensive telehealth programme that addresses such challenges as long-distance travel for treatment and the shortage of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.

In my roles as an external reviewer to the Africa Development Bank and a contributor to the United Nations, World Health Summit and the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, I influence policy formulation on healthcare, particularly around telehealth programmes at local and regional levels.

Nigeria has a shortage of doctors and an abundance of counterfeit medicines. Many doctors who trained in Nigeria practice outside the country. When I finished my National Youth Service Corps duties, I wanted to leave the country and gain international experience and expertise so that I could return and give back to Africa.

After passing my exams, I joined the NHS as a stroke physician and continued to provide consultation services to people back in Nigeria.

A few of my achievements and career highlights
In 2017, I founded Mobihealth to change how patients access and receive care. Mobihealth offers a much-needed reprieve for those needing urgent access to quality medical professionals. This solution speaks to the real challenges on the ground, like the lack of health insurance for millions of patients in Nigeria.

Mobihealth pioneered telehealth in the Nigerian Armed Forces, a first on the continent. Last year, we won a $1 million grant from the US Trade and Development Agency to expand digital health infrastructure and services to other African countries.

I have also received a World Bank 2020 Sustainable Development Goals and Her Initiative award and an Africa-UK: Female Tech Founders award sponsored by the UK government, which invited me to the maiden edition of the UK–Africa Investment Summit in 2020.

In 2023, I received the Forbes Woman Africa Award in Pretoria, South Africa.

Mobihealth emerged a winner of the challenge of transforming healthcare systems from manual to digital with smart logistics solutions at the point of care.

The challenges I have faced
Believe in yourself. Get your idea off the ground and stop procrastinating.

The first challenge was funding. Initially, I bootstrapped the company from my income as a doctor and through funding from friends and families. At that stage, getting funding was very difficult, not just from American and European investors but from African investors, too.

Part of that challenge was bias. Women face more scrutiny than men in seeking capital and funding. Women must prove themselves even when they are delivering better outcomes than their male counterparts.

Biases include sociocultural barriers, sexism, sexual harassment, and society’s expectations of women to stick to small-sized enterprises and not scale into multimillion-dollar businesses. When I started telemedicine, I was unpopular.

The second challenge was technology. When I was trying to mobilize doctors, and whenever I walked into a room and asked whether anyone knew about telemedicine, the response was less than one percent of the audience.

I was innovating a solution, not cutting and pasting one from the west. We have peculiar problems and challenges in Africa; unless you understand that, you will not make an impact.

That relates to the third challenge, that most of the companies with existing telemedicine solutions did not see a compelling reason to expand their services to Africa.

My advice for young Africans
Believe in yourself. Get your idea off the ground and stop procrastinating.

No one starts off with all i's dotted and t's crossed. So, do not let the need for perfection stand in the way of your dream!

Leverage mentors and other available resources to bring your ideas to life and continue to improve on them.

Find ways to unwind and give back. I listen to music, watch movies and walk our dog Bruno. I also mentor young girls and entrepreneurs, fund community projects, and support women entrepreneurs and a local church.

As Steve Jobs said, “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

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