The government of Africa’s most populated country has enlisted the help of a Saskatoon tech firm to deliver remote health care to millions of people.
Saskatoon’s Ethnomet has partnered with the Nigerian government to develop a telehealth app that facilitates connections between patients and physicians regardless of distance.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Ethomet CEO Garnette Weber in an interview with CTV News. “We’ve had numerous discussions on how best to serve the people of Nigeria, identify their specific needs, and address the healthcare challenges they face. Over the past year, it has truly been a collective effort involving many individuals to bring together all the necessary elements for this project.”
According to a company news release, the app, named Nigcomhealth, is built on Ethomet’s platform and includes Nigerian technology partner Sawtrax.
During the app’s launch event in Abuja on May 14, Nigeria’s Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, stated, “The doctor-patient ratio in the country is deteriorating, with one physician attending to over 5,000 patients. This stands in stark contrast to the World Health Organization’s recommendation of one doctor for every 600 patients.” Pantami further highlighted that the country requires a minimum of 363,000 additional doctors to meet the demand.
Weber explained that the app also assists doctors who have relocated to other countries in maintaining their practice. Weber noted that acquiring accreditation in a new country can be a lengthy process. “Through telehealth, they can continue to serve the Nigerian people. So, for healthcare practitioners who previously lived and worked in Nigeria but moved to Canada, they can still connect, utilize their clinical skills, earn income, and continue their virtual practice as physicians.”
Weber pointed out that some of the strategies implemented in Nigeria could also benefit Saskatchewan’s healthcare system. “While there are certainly similarities in terms of research and resource challenges for healthcare practitioners, the scale of the problem in Nigeria is much more significant,” she said.
Weber shared that Nigeria produces 3,500 new medical graduates annually, but approximately 2,000 of them depart for other countries, including Canada and the United States.
“Another similarity to Canada is the significant percentage of the population residing in rural and remote areas,” Weber added. “In Nigeria, 48 percent of the population lives in such areas where accessing healthcare services is extremely challenging. This difficulty is further compounded by security issues that make it unsafe for healthcare professionals to travel to these regions.”
Weber stated that they chose to prioritize Nigeria due to the substantial demand, but they foresee potential for their platform to be utilized in Canada in the future.
According to the company, the platform currently includes 80 Nigerian federal and state-owned government hospitals.