Irish Team Leads Rollout of Affordable Healthcare Platform for Millions in Africa

A new platform, that aims to bring affordable primary healthcare to millions of people in Africa for as little as €7 per month, has launched this month following a collaboration between a team based in Dublin and their South African colleagues.

Lead by Irish woman Elaine Devereux, managing director of Lucky Beard in Dublin and its chief creative officer James Nelson, also based in Dublin, Unu Health is a digital platform that uses technology to drive down the cost of primary healthcare and empower the 50 million people in South Africa that currently rely on state healthcare to significantly improve their health and wellbeing.

According to recent reports, South Africa’s healthcare remains a two-tiered space, where access to private healthcare remains linked to the ability to pay for private medical scheme membership. Private healthcare accounts for 50% of the total expenditure on health, and supports only 17% of the population.

Seed-funded by the Standard Bank Group, the largest bank in Africa, Unu Health is initially targeting the 5.5 million formally employed population that cannot afford medical aid, with the launch of a corporate offering that enables employers to provide access to private primary healthcare for their employees.

“This breakthrough in healthcare has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people in Africa, where the average life expectancy falls ten years below the global average and the majority of the population rely on an overstretched public healthcare system, often waiting days to see a doctor,” said Devereux, whose global team from Dublin and South Africa are the lead advisors across strategy, brand, product design, and technology.

“Over the past 18 months, our teams have worked tirelessly to develop a solution that provides affordable, accessible, and effective primary care to individuals who previously had limited options.

“Unu Health uses innovative technology to simplify access to healthcare and drastically improve the patient experience while driving down the cost, much like Revolut did for banking, with the ambition to bring ‘healthcare that makes you smile.

“The initial offering will not only improve the health and wellbeing of employees but also enables employers to develop informed HR strategies and wellness initiatives that reduce absenteeism and ultimately enhance productivity.”

The app enables people to manage all of their healthcare needs in one place, offering easy access to their health records and medical history.  Users can get an up-to-date clinically valid health score updated each month and plug in their private health insurance plan so they can view and track their benefit use over time. They can also chat instantly to a nurse or doctor via WhatsApp or video call using a network of 3,400 private GPs, 8 000 specialists and 3,500 pharmacies across South Africa.

Tania Joffe, CEO and Principal of Unu Health, says the platform’s vision is to transform the delivery of quality primary healthcare in Africa, making it accessible, affordable and dignified for all. “Owing to the friction involved in accessing primary healthcare, most South Africans initially self-medicate acute symptoms while their chronic conditions go largely undiagnosed. As a result, on any day 15% of the workforce is absent – that’s 2.25 million people who are not at work.

“We’re looking to change the status quo by removing the friction and develop a hyperconnected patient-centred ecosystem linking healthcare users, healthtech resources as well as traditional in-person health resources, via an inclusive platform that is intuitive and easy to use from mobiles.”

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