TAKING HEART

Offline app updates villagers on Covid-19

Impact enterprise reach52 adapts its tech to give information and medical care to rural communities

Singapore

VILLAGERS in remote Cambodia and the Philippines can now ask their cellphones if they have Covid-19 by listing some symptoms they may be having. The app will then "advise" them to consult a doctor if needed.

This tech godsend is a chatbot on Facebook Messenger which works as an offline-first digital platform - so it can be used even in areas with spotty or no Internet connections, and on low-spec devices.

The platform was launched by reach52, an impact enterprise that has been delivering healthcare services to rural areas with its technology platform since 2016.

The company has also been training health workers and putting other offline apps in the hands of members of the communities, so they can deliver check-ups, medicines, diagnostics and insurance, for example.

When the virus struck, reach52 founder Edward Booty had to rapidly adapt the core technology the group already had in hand.

He said: "Ultimately, we built it to be configurable, given our plans to scale in multiple markets. We were able to design and deploy our solutions in 10 days - from making the decision to providing frontline support to the health systems.

"The challenges are always where to get the most credible information, as well as understanding what these communities need.

"As reach52's health system solutions are powered by technology and designed to reach remote communities, they can be adapted and implemented to support any community during the current crisis and beyond."

The company is today in more than 400 rural and remote communities in Asia. While it receives funding from grants and awards, reach52 also works with pharmacos, insurers, medtech and consumer health organisations for a sustainable revenue stream.

Mr Booty said that with 52 per cent of the world lacking access to healthcare, the group's mission is to connect these masses to essential health services.

"We realised Covid-19 was here for the long-haul in February, and spent March planning," he said.

"When the community quarantines kicked in and supply chains and other essential health services were stopped, we knew we had to adapt fast and provide support for these communities.

"It's these communities that are most vulnerable to Covid-19 - not just the disease itself, but the barriers Covid-19 is creating to delivering essential health services for existing epidemics.

"Health systems in rural areas of lower income countries are not prepared for this, in the same way that they are not prepared for many other killer diseases."

He said that the response to the chatbot has been "excellent". More than 6,500 users were garnered in a week, and plans have been made to roll out the platform in more than 10 countries.

Joyce Denosta, a housewife from the Philippines, said that she is happy that she is insured now, and that the technology has been a huge help for people like her.

reach52's technology was recognised in April as the top project at the #BuildforCOVID19 global hackathon organised by the World Health Organization; it was also awarded DBS Foundation's Social Enterprise Grant last year.