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Kenyan startup Ponia gains momentum in driving access to medical services • Technology Flow

Serial Kenya Technology Entrepreneur Mike Macharia has spent the past two decades helping companies like East Africa’s largest telco Safaricom build the infrastructure that will fuel their growth. His company, Seven Seas Technologies, has worked with governments in the past – participating in the initial implementation of decentralized service delivery hubs – Huduma Centers, which grant citizens access to almost all government services through a single portal.

A few years ago, Macharia was also contracted by the Kenyan government to build the now-abandoned National Hospital Information System, which he said could transform healthcare delivery in the country. The end of that project, in 2019, however, did not kill his innovation; Instead it inspired him to launch Ponia Health as a marketplace for healthcare services.

“The end of that project gave me self-reflection and I realized that I had been building hardware and software for enterprises all my life. But I never thought of building technology for us (masses). I decided to build from the bottom up and Ponia was born,” said the startup’s Chief Visionary Officer ( CVO) Macharia told Technology Flow.

A personal emergency confirmed the timeliness of the idea.

“I was driving from my house, and I had a nosebleed, the second time it had happened. I consulted my doctor and he recommended that I take some tests. But I think he suspected that I wouldn’t take them; it was a busy day anyway. So, to take samples. He sent a lab technician to my office. After the results and the doctor’s review, I contacted the pharmacy that uses the rider to deliver the drugs,” he said.

“In that moment, I realized that everything was there. There were doctors, labs, pharmacy, payment and delivery providers, but why weren’t they interconnected? I realized that no one had tried to bring this whole ecosystem together; that’s what we have to do. Why not?”

And he set out to build Ponia into a “true patient-centric platform”.

Ponia Health is a multi-level marketplace that integrates patients, healthcare and other service providers, including in the payment space.

Makes it easier for users to identify doctors, facilities and/or healthcare packages based on various factors including need, location and fees – as cost is also factored in at the time of listing.

Once a user connects with a doctor and depending on the severity of their cases, they consult either virtually or physically. And, where a doctor recommends tests, Ponia connects the patient with a lab provider for sample collection.

“We also have our own phlebotomists who sometimes collect blood samples because we realized that patients need to start controlling the last mile experience,” says Macharia, who co-founded Ponia with Akshay Shah.

He added that the entire process from patient check-in to delivery of medicines will be customer driven and supported by a call center (medical operation centre).

To be listed on Ponia’s platform, providers are first vetted and rated, using its own rating system, which uses data from government databases and physicians’ certifications. Additionally, patients can rate providers based on set metrics, helping to rank doctors according to customer experience and satisfaction.

Ponia was founded in June 2019 and since January last year has signed up over 15,000 customers as well as over 400 health and wellness professionals, a 54% conversion as people increasingly seek telehealth following the sector’s Covid-induced growth. The rise comes as telehealth is said to bridge the healthcare access gap in Africa, a continent with the world’s highest disease burden and lowest patient-physician ratio.

As adoption of telehealth continues, Ponia aims to grow its customer base by 500,000 over the next three years and establish a presence in four more markets, including South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco.

“We’ve built a scalable product that integrates easily with others because, from the word go, we set out to build a platform that works in any part of the world. This doesn’t mean we’re just building what’s available. We see strategic engagement by allowing API integration on a global scale,” said Macharia.

“And, we’ve found great companies globally and locally that work in amazing ways, and this includes the Global Mental Health Symptom Checker, which we’re currently evaluating and will soon integrate into our platform,” he said. The platform can also collect data from wearable devices.

Ponia provides a chronic disease management component for patients and their caregivers such as nurses to help synchronize information and data for better disease monitoring.

The startup also caters to SMEs or businesses that cannot afford comprehensive insurance or only want outpatient services. Employees can access services from a pre-selected list of providers and unlike insurance, Ponia wallet balance does not expire.

To date, Ponia has attracted $4.3 million in funding from Afya Partners, Shield Capital, Seven Seas Technologies and several angel investors including Bhavesh Shah, Herman Langen, Franciscus Olstorn and Kalpesh Mehta.

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