About four years ago, a cousin of Tafadzwa Munzwa became pregnant. In the end, she and her baby were fine, but Munzwa was shocked by the poor quality of care she received.
That experience was Munzwa’s first real look at the difficulty women faced in accessing quality maternal health care in Zambia, where they lived, and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. So about two years ago he was a co-founder DawaHealth developing a maternal healthcare screening, profiling and management tool to address the high rate of pregnancy and childbirth related complications leading to maternal mortality in the region. “We are democratizing access to maternal health care,” he says.
“We are democratizing access to maternal health care,” he says.
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Munzwa’s vision for the company rested on a number of points. One was the high number of deaths from preventable pregnancy and childbirth-related complications in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia – two-thirds of the total number of deaths worldwide. The other: the significant number of health workers in Sub-Saharan Africa who are out of work due to budget constraints; those health workers who are employed are so overworked that they cannot provide quality care. At the same time, most middle- and low-income families struggling to make ends meet cannot afford health insurance.
His response was to build a platform that basically creates remote clinics in communities by leveraging that army of unemployed and understaffed frontline clinicians in the region, enabling them to support patients where they live.
Specifically, a network of field health workers will receive kits of mobile aids to take with them on bimonthly visits. With those devices, they assess the condition of their patients and then upload the information to the platform to be evaluated by a central medical team. High-risk patients are referred to the nearest health posts.
Medical kits include devices such as blood pressure and hemoglobin monitors and latex gloves, just to name a few. The company also offers tools for screening babies for congenital or prenatal infections, plus portable ultrasounds and tablets. Before working with patients, caregivers receive training on their mobile devices.
In addition, pregnant women and nursing mothers can access weekly health support via mobile devices in a language of their choice, enabling them to identify potentially pressing health concerns between visits. (It is also available through a web portal and text/audio chatbot).
Mothers pay a small fee — four times cheaper than private health care, according to Munzwa — and clinicians pay a monthly subscription for the medical kits.
In addition, the platform, called DawaMom, fulfills a double function: to provide urgent, affordable healthcare to women and to create a source of income for unemployed clinicians. Healthcare workers are paid for the women they refer to the platform, as well as for patient assessments and examinations. Mothers receive a discount if they refer someone else to the program. And according to the company, health services are 50% cheaper than regular facilities.
According to Munzwa, the company has so far helped about 4,000 mothers through a pilot. For the next five years, he plans to focus on expanding the company’s maternal care footprint to other regions. The goal is to reach about 40% of pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers in southern Africa by 2027. Eventually, he wants to expand to other conditions, such as sickle cell anemia.
DawaHealth was recently chosen as one of MIT Solve’s 40 Solver Teams in 2022 and won $10,000, plus enrollment in a nine-month mentorship program. Thanks to the visibility and support of that award, the company was also one of five teams recently selected for The Health Access Prize supported by Johnson & Johnson Impact Ventures, a fund within the Johnson & Johnson Foundation. The winners received a total of $175,000.