Technology helps bridge health insurance gap

MOBILE phone users with their mobile phones.


THERE is excitement in the air as mobile technology is having a dramatic impact on the way health care is delivered to both urban and rural communities in the African Region.

Known as mHealth, mobile health technology has a tremendous potential to strengthen health systems in low and middle-income countries through better access to knowledge and information, improved service delivery and reduced response time during crises. Mobile technology can address some of the biggest health challenges in Africa. Healthcare is a massive challenge in Africa.

The continent is home to 15 per cent of the world’s population and 24 per cent of global disease burden, and yet has only 3 per cent of the world’s healthcare workforce at its disposal. According to the 2012 Deloitte Open Mobile Survey, the health care industry is thought to be the most promising new mobile growth channel.

The application of mobile technologies, ‘Mobile Health’ (mHealth), in the health care industry is increasingly seen as a way to provide high quality and easily accessible care at lower costs. And in terms of revenue the global mHealth market is predicted to grow to 24 billion US dollars by 2018, up from 4.5 billion US dollars in 2013.

Tigo Tanzania and its partner Milvik Tanzania recently introduced an improved insurance service called ‘Bima Mkononi’ at an affordable rate in order to cushion people from the disease burden. Bima Mkononi is an insurance cover which was designed by Milvik Tanzania, a leading insurance tech player that uses mobile technology to fuel financial inclusion in the country.

The service offers uniquely designed products such as life insurance, hospitalisation and personal accident cover for customers who actively use Tigo Pesa.

“With the increase in mobile penetration in both rural and urban Tanzania, Bima mkononi has become a major boost to push financial inclusion in the informal sector by enabling Tanzanians to access affordable insurance services from their phones”, says Tigo Tanzania’s Head of Mobile financial services Ruan Swanepoel.

Over 200,000 subscribers have so far benefitted from the service, which is now relaunced as Bima Mkononi and is paid via mobile money. Initially a subscriber paid the premiums via airtime, but now under the new approach one would be required to pay via Tigo Pesa.

“We believe this will be a great opportunity to Tigo customers to access insurance easily because the Bima Mkononi service aims to provide Tanzanians with affordable options for health, personal accident and life insurance,” Swanepoel told the media recently. The launch of this service underlines Tigo’s commitment in promoting digital lifestyle transformation and its leadership in delivering the cuttingedge technology and innovation, he affirmed.

One of the beneficiaries of the insurance pay-out is Esther Ezekiel, an entrepreneur and a widow of the late Ezekiel Chokala. Ezekiel, a 52 year old taxi driver met an untimely death when his car was involved in a head-on collision with a speeding truck near Igoma petrol station on the outskirts of Mwanza Region.

Her husband had once told her that he had purchased a package of Farijika na Bima Mkononi two years earlier and used to forward all text messages received from the insurance which helped her to keep track of the cover. She went to the company’s customer service centre at Mabatini to lodge her claim.

A total of 1.5m/- was paid out within 3 days of lodging her claim. Rebecca Mwangonde, aged 32, a native of Mbeya Region unexpectedly lost her father in May last year. She submitted her claim and within 72 hours she received 900,000/-. “Bima Mkononi gave me 900,000/- which helped me give my beloved father a good burial. At that time, no support was coming from any other place, but Bima Mkononi was there to support me. I say it is real and I encourage all to join”, she said with enthusiasm.

Joseph Simkazya, is yet another of Bima Mkononi successful claimant. Simkazya, 44, lost his wife and subsequently lodged a claim for pay-out and as he says, was grateful to receive Tshs. 1.2 million which was paid within 72 hours.

“Bima Mkononi is real and it has really been of great help to me and my family. I am grateful to Tigo and Milvik for the financial support which helped me bury my late wife and also be able to buy other things”, Simkazya says grateful.

Somoye Ally is also among the thousands who have benefitted from the insurance scheme. His mother became sick and was rushed to Amana Hospital in Dar es Salaam where, after only two days, she passed away.

He had been introduced to Bima Mkononi and registered with his mother as an insured relative, After his mother’s death, the burial preparations did not frighten him so much as when he lodged a claim, he was within three days paid 2m /- that helped him cater for the burial and other responsibilities at home.

Right now health insurance in Africa constitutes a tale of two continents. The very affluent can take advantage of private insurance with top-tier doctors and hospitals. However, many families rely on crowded state-run facilities, with long wait times and not always the best of care or they have to pay out of pocket for medical services. The current situation leaves a huge gap in the middle.

In order to make a difference different parties need to unite and start utilizing technological advances that exist in today’s marketplace. The market for healthcare in Africa is worth some $35 billion, according to McKinsey. About half of Africa’s health expenditure is estimated to come from out-of-pocket payments.

With patients paying over the counter, a sudden health crisis can cause severe financial hardship for families. And the cash economy can allow counterfeit medicines and unlicensed dispensaries to flourish. The increasing adoption of cell phones and mobile technologies allows for many innovations. For example, Kenya is piloting a portable kit consisting of a mobile app and clipon hardware that transforms a smartphone into an eye examination tool.

Another example is one state governor who simply gave expectant mothers cell phones so they can could call health professionals when they had a health issue, and receive calls to remind them to take their medicines or get their check-ups.

This step greatly cuts the incidence of maternityrelated complications. Governments, providers, investors, employers and others in the private sector need to come together to develop innovative models that will work according to the needs of individual countries.

It is very difficult today to obtain a license and to meet the regulatory requirements for health insurance in Africa. Today it is still challenging to provide real solutions to the people who need them most.

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