The worldwide problem of health data and hurdles to getting access to information — on both the patient and hospital side — continue to plague us into 2021. A startup based out of Nairobi, Kenya wants to help empower the world to take their health data back.
The genesis block of Afya Rekod
Afya Rekod was born out of tragedy. Founder and CEO John Kamara lost a friend of his at a hospital in 2019. His friend was diabetic, had a small seizure and was in and out of consciousness.
“Nobody had any understanding of his historical data — what his previous doctor was giving him, what he was self-medicating on, especially when he wasn’t in hospital,” Kamara explained. “So the doctor did the right thing.”
The doctor treated the symptoms that he saw. By later that same afternoon, Kamara’s friend was in a coma and later died.
“For me, that was the beginning of it,” Kamara went on. “The doctors didn’t do anything wrong. It was the system. And the fact that the one thing we produce consistently, which is data — we had no access to it.”
So Kamara went to work to build a platform where patients can control and access their own health record. From there, Kamara and the Afya Rekod — which is based out of Nairobi, Kenya — started thinking about applying their platform as well to disease outbreaks and tracking them on the African continent.
This created another focus for the platform: using AI technology and data from Afya Rekod, the company could assist local public health officials in identifying an infectious disease outbreak and its spread before health care boots were even on the ground.
The first step of giving back the people their health information is giving access to Afya Rekod to everyone. The platform exists on a mobile application, web portal, is available on USSD.
The USSD capability of Afya Rekod is what allows the platform to reach almost anyone.
“We started in Africa,” Kamara told MouseBelt. “So we also had to look at our community and say, ‘How do we get people in villages and everything to also have access to some level of health care, so we had to build that infrastructure out.”
If you don’t know, USSD would allow the user on a standard, non-smart mobile phone access to the Afya Rekod platform. No worrying about 5G: just have some cell signal at all.
The mobile application has a diary that allows patients to store their health record and also generate and manage their symptoms daily as well. This is a great tool for chronic illness patients and others.
Afya Rekod’s current record
“The problem that we’re solving is a global problem,” Kamara said. “The sober right of ownership of data to a patient, which basically means, how do you make that data impenetrable, interoperable, and consistently transparent? And then, how do you secure a platform like that?”
Blockchain has helped answer some of those questions for Kamara. However, that created some interesting questions of their own for the CEO.
“When you tokenize, when people start using their data to generate wealth how do you also make sure that’s an ecosystem that’s extremely transparent — that if someone reads my data today to do a trial, I can keep earning money from it two years from now.”
Because ownership of health data on a blockchain in tokenized form would also mean people would be generating value from allowing access to that data.
“You can only ever do that on the blockchain,” Kamara said. “So it’s impenetrable, it’s unhackable, and it’s clearly transparent because it passes all of the data to the patient, either from the hospital or anywhere else.”
Kamara said he believes we all deserve ownership of our health records and for Afya Rekod, when people have control governance of their own information, then that unlocks the true power of a blockchain-based platform like this.
“You create a token economy of — you know, what if my health data becomes a token that I can transact with?” Kamara asked.
Afya Rekod is working off a few chains right now, not having created their own. The company looked at Ethereum, but quickly decided the gas fees for what they were trying to do were too high. The are researching a few chains including Cardano and a few others.
“But the ultimate goal, obviously, as we raise funding, is to actually build our own chain,” Kamara explained. “Because building our own chain creates an open network for everybody who has access to their health data, or who works within the health care space or wants to interact with blockchain to store, manage, implement or reposition the value of the data into a currency.”
For Afya Rekod, the token side is not about building a new crypto token, but building around the data.
“So I give you this token,” Kamara said. “It has all my health information, which I keep verifying all the time and I keep adding — and you can now pay me or you can credit me another service for it.”
In that way, Afya Rekod sees the token as a value proposition. It would become a stored stable token within an economy where health information can provide value to the person whose info it is.
“What we’re saying is, when we get all of us to own our health data, then we can use that data to transact. Because right now, people use your health data to transact service and you don’t get any value from it.”
Kamara said the staff at Afya Rekod call their idea “The Gmail of Health Care.” A patient would set up a Gmail account, set up a patient portal account and then Afya Rekod would give that user a certain amount of storage space. After that, the platform would give the patient access to all of their health info from various hospitals in one place.
The patient would also be provided a measuring tool to understand your health care protocol for the platform, and if a family member joined the platform, you could add them and your relation.
“Even when you go to a hospital, just tell them, ‘Send my health record here,’” Kamara explained. “So that really becomes something we have to secure on the blockchain.”
Launched in the time of COVID
Afya Rekod got its start in May 2020. The company began testing and currently has about 110,000 users. Forty hospitals in three countries are also working with the platform. The app itself has about 6,000 users, as it is still in beta testing. The company was able to get seed funding at the time and has been working day and night since.
Kamara said one of the hurdles the company has been facing is a lack of blockchain developers stationed in Africa. But Afya Rekod is already looking to solve that issue.
“We’ve partnered with the African Blockchain Center to start training blockchain developers,” Kamara said.
The company has also worked with several hospitals in their region to allow them for the first time to collect, store and access health data. Afya Rekod is also working on going live in Zambia, South Africa and the United States.
“We are doing stuff with hospitals — they use stuff on paper and pen,” Kamara explained. “So, we’ve also learned how to provide for basic — forget the big technology, how do you still serve with basic stuff?”
Afya Rekod helped those hospitals digitize their records for the first time. Some hospitals have pushed back, unclear on how the company makes money or charges fees. Kamara said one of the goals of Afya Rekod is to try to change how people think of health care. He said the company hopes to charge $5 USD a year for the service.
In addition, the company has helped the city of Mombasa — the oldest and second largest in Kenya — manage the COVID crisis. COVID prompted the company to build — in addition to the patient portal — a disease management and alert system.
The company is also building an insurance platform, trying to use blockchain to help mitigate many problems insurers have like transparency and fraud.
Afya Rekod moving forward
Afya Rekod has accomplished all of this with a nine person team, with an initial pre-seed funding from a Dr. Ron Harris based in the United States, and a desire to change the world.
“So about nine people are serving the world from Nairobi,” Kamara said.
Moving forward, the company’s main goals are twofold: raise awareness and another round of funding.
By the end of 2021, Kamara said the company hopes to have secured $2 to $4 million in funding and launch their stand-alone patient portal, “The Gmail of Health Care.”
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