Rwanda partners with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, telehealth company to launch health app

Two years ago the Rwanda Ministry of Health partnered with the London-based telehealth startup Babylon Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch a health app to provide its citizens with access to remote healthcare services, according to an athenaInsight blog post.

The app, Babyl Rwanda, aims to address the physician shortage in Rwanda. Currently the nation has roughly one physician for every 12,000 citizens. The app connects citizens with an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot, which triages a patient's medical problems and either offers treatment recommendations or sets up an appointment with a remote physician, depending on the severity of the patient's health issues.

A team of 25 physicians employed by government hospitals staff the video- and phone-based remote consultations, which typically cost patients about 65 cents each. These physicians help to diagnose conditions, recommend lab tests and issue prescriptions, and speak a range of languages, including Kinyarwanda, English and French.

Since 2016, more than 2 million Rwandans have registered for the app. In the program's first year, Babyl Rwanda completed more than 100,000 consultations. For patients without a mobile phone, Babyl Rwanda also established "babyl booths" equipped with tablets and phones at various pharmacies nationwide.

"It's about giving a patient quick access to a doctor," Shivon Byamukama, MD, deputy CEO of Babyl Rwanda, told athenaInsight. "In the end, what you need is a doctor's brain, not the brick and mortar that comes with a hospital."

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