What are the reasons why someone would want to become a doctor in low-resource settings? To help people, or to obtain job security? What happens when you encounter someone you cannot help? That was exactly the situation that Tosca Terra, Business Development Manager at Healthy Entrepreneurs, found herself in during a field visit, when she and a community health worker encountered a sick child but did not have the tools to diagnose her illness.
The health worker instructed the family to seek care at the closest hospital, but the closest hospital was over an hour and a half away by car and had limited resources to care for patients. For many families, distance, cost, and quality of care are strong deterrents for receiving the care they need.
Healthy Entrepreneurs, founded by social entrepreneur Joost van Engen, is an organization that equips local community health workers with the technology and training to offer accurate diagnoses and prescription medicine to rural communities across Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.
Two years ago, they imagined a ‘Doctors at Distance’ approach to provide a toll-free line where health workers can call doctors from anywhere, at any time. By calling doctors directly, community health workers can get the advice they need to offer more thorough consultations to their communities and track the treatment plan. This became a top priority when the pandemic hit.
While working with Philips, they were able to create the dedicated call-line and recruit doctors to provide consultations. They added diagnostic services to the Healthy Entrepreneurs portfolio including a device to detect childhood pneumonia. They evolved from seeing themselves solely as a health provider to recognizing the role they can play in boosting (youth) employment across the region by training additional community health workers and together they developed a model to scale nationally across Uganda.
Scaling the Doctors at Distance-approach in Uganda
They are already observing positive signs from this program. For the 50 community health workers chosen to pilot the call center and new diagnostic services, they have on average seen a doubling of their customer base and revenues.