Comfort and efficiency are the hallmarks of Mena's health technologies


Where and when the world's first hospital was built is often controversial, but there is no doubt that the Middle East was a medical powerhouse during the heyday of the Golden Age. Among various caliphs, the region was once a pioneer of medical advances, developing tools and apparatus that are still present in one form or another in today's hospitals.

Similar to other aspects of social progress in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), stagnation has so far displaced innovation.

According to a report by the Medical Devices and Diagnostics Trade Association for the Middle East, the annual value of the medical device market in the region will increase to $ 11 billion by 2021, while total health care spending in Mena by 2022 will reach Al by 2009 become Masah Capital

Much of this spending is the technology that has penetrated almost every sector of the health care system. Technology is increasingly being used to treat the causes and symptoms of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, which affect 35 million people in the region. But as investment in this sector increases, the region tends to lack deep technological innovation and research and development (R & D).

Many of the startups that have emerged in health technology tend to work on the service side. Instead, they aim to increase access, efficiency and accuracy while reducing costs for providers.

Find and book

One of the most popular startups in Mena are online booking portals. It may take some time to find the right doctor for your needs, especially if you are unfamiliar with the medical care available in your area.

The Egyptian Vezeeta, which has recently raised $ 12 million in the Series C round and another $ 1 million from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Dabadoc in Morocco, has searched, reviewed and reviewed doctors Booking appointments made a simpler process.

In the United Arab Emirates, Fodhil Benturquia has managed to register 1,000 doctors on its platform, Okadoc. By 2022, 30 percent of all doctors in the United Arab Emirates have been registered. The idea for his company comes from his own difficult experience trying to book an appointment with his doctor when he was ill.

"We want to take the first step – I'm sick, I want to feel better," says Benturquia. "I want to make this experience of access to healthcare more efficient. Finding a doctor who speaks your language is available in your insurance network today if you are looking for, but organizing this data is extremely important. "

Such services claim to reduce up to 75 percent in no-shows by reminding patients of their upcoming appointments.

Better access

For those who have difficulty getting their doctor's visit or may not be able to afford it, telemedicine and telemedicine are becoming viable alternatives.

A telehealth startup is Altibbi of Dubai, which has already raised $ 8.5 million since its launch in 2015. The Arab platform offers articles, informative videos and the opportunity to start a consultation with a health expert via video or audio chat. Altibbi recently launched in Egypt in partnership with the country's Ministry of Health and offered a million free consultations to reduce medical costs for the poorer communities in Egypt.

Healthcare can be incredibly hierarchical in the Middle East, with economic status usually determining access to and quality of care. Health at Hand, a telemedicine company founded by Charlie Barlow, wants to democratize access to basic health care.

"I really felt that there were no fair conditions. Access was based on wealth and location, "says Barlow. "Access to quality primary care is a fundamental human right and not a privilege for the few, but the reality is different."

He founded Health at Hand in 2016 and worked with four full-time doctors. Barlow claims the company would need only 13 doctors to serve 3 million people on its platform. Each calling patient experiences a waiting time of only two minutes. The company hopes to be the first point of contact for medical care outside of emergencies, helping to reduce costs for insurers and patients.

"The market is completely broken, compulsory health insurance puts more pressure on insurance companies," he says.

Health at Hand wants to expand the drug delivery and integrate it into its platform. When a patient suffers from a cold, a doctor of the app can diagnose this, prescribe the medication, which is then delivered to the patient.

"In most cases, your telehealth experience is as good, if not better, than seeing your doctor in person," says Barlow. He believes that the reasons are the short wait and his "robust technology".

Scope for innovation

According to a PwC report, the Middle East has the potential to become a world leader in research and development of artificial intelligence (R & D). Two-thirds of respondents said they were comfortable with replacing doctors with AI or robots, and the region is already open to technological change.

"If you combine the clinical labor shortage in the Middle East, with more positive factors such as a young, digital minded population ready to take on AI and robotics, PwC believes the Middle East could leapfrog other countries in these technologies," says PwC Tim Wilson, leading provider of healthcare industries in the Middle East to PwC.

In a hackathon organized by the Ministry of Health, organized by Wamda in cooperation with Hikma Ventures, the sophistication of ideas and the technical level became clear. The two-day challenge held in Sharjah in February invited students from the United Arab Emirates to present their ideas for health technology under the theme of mental illness and chronic illness. The winning idea was Epicap, a sensor-equipped hat that allows people with epilepsy to know when a seizure is imminent so they can get to a safe place.

However, while the ideas and willingness to innovate exist, there is a lack of infrastructure and funding to truly test and scale these ideas.

Wassim Merheby, co-founder and chief executive officer of Dhonor Healthtech, who uses blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) to track down donated organs and prescriptions, has faced obstacles in dealing with the fragmented nature of the Middle East and various regulatory agencies.

"There are some challenges," says Merheby. "The talent pool technicians are extremely expensive. We are a startup, but we can not compete because our costs are very high. They do not have universities that graduate top talent. We have to outsource our development. "

After Merheby, moving abroad would be cheaper and more sustainable.

A startup in Dubai has already made the exodus. Medicus AI, which explains and interprets blood tests and medical reports to provide personalized health tips that were moved from Dubai to Vienna after receiving initial investment from European investors, followed by a running $ 3 million Series A round. Dollars, led by a Germany investor. The company moved to Vienna in 2016, where the startup ecosystem supports profound technical and scientific innovations.

However, there is a desire to facilitate deep tech innovation in the Middle East, particularly in the United Arab Emirates. An exhibition of the Museum of the Future, shown during the World Government Summit in February of this year, was a series showing the evolution of health technology. From robotic surgeons to immortality, the innovation potential in the health sector was visible. Dubai strives to position itself as a thought leader and adapter of this technology, but requires better access to talent, a more affordable living environment for start-ups and investors willing to take the risk before it reaches this stage.