How Rwanda is using Artificial Intelligence to improve healthcare
Drug stock-outs and shortage of medical equipment in health facilities in Rwanda are becoming a thing of the past, thanks to an innovation that is addressing procurement constraints.
Viebeg Technologies, a venture capital-backed Health Tech company, is helping to expand access to affordable health care in Central and East Africa by aiding healthcare facilities in procuring supplies in real-time. It uses artificial intelligence (AI) to manage supply chain processes (from shipping to warehousing, distribution and inventory management) to ensure that healthcare facilities have the precise medical supplies in stock.
The Rwanda Innovation Fund, partly financed by the African Development Bank, invested in Viebeg’s data-driven logistics platform.
Tobias Reiter, Viebeg Technologies Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, says the firm’s AI-driven medical procurement platform directly connects healthcare providers with manufacturers. This removes brokers and middlemen from the value chain, generating cost savings of up to 40 percent for customers.
“We saw that many medical facilities did not have the right supplies; and also from reports that in Africa, in every five minutes, people are dying from conditions that could be prevented if we had the right medical supplies,” Reiter noted.
The company, which was set up in 2018, works with many health facilities in Rwanda, where two million people have been treated with Viebeg products, according to Alex Musyoka, its Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer. It is already making inroads in other parts of East Africa, including Kenya, Burundi and Congo, and serving over 500 facilities. The company plans to expand across Africa, Musyoka says.
Many healthcare facilities in Rwanda laud Viebeg, as they can now find essential products for their specific fields at affordable rates. An example is the Kivu Specialist Clinic, established by Dr. Amol Kulkarni, one of only three maxillofacial surgeons in Rwanda.
Modern equipment is of utmost importance for specialists who treat defects and injuries of the mouth, teeth and jaws, but they are often not affordable in Africa.
Dr. Amol said Viebeg helped his clinic to acquire an orthopantomogram machine (a panoramic dental X-ray of the upper and lower jaw), thereby boosting its cutting-edge capability. He added: “In four months, the clinic will have fully paid for the new OPG machine. We are considered one of the best-equipped clinics in Rwanda. Viebeg helped me establish my clinic, and now I am confident having Viebeg as my partner to maintain it.”
Similarly, the Ejo Heza Surgical Centre in Kigali needed a new anesthesia machine as their old one had broken down. But they did not have the funds to purchase a new one. “As Viebeg offers special payment terms for products, Ejo Heza became Viebeg’s client and acquired the new equipment within three weeks. This has allowed our facility to continue saving lives,” says Dr. Dominique Savio Mugenzi, Orthopedic Surgeon and Managing Director at Ejo Heza.
“Thanks to Viebeg’s service, we are now procuring our medical supplies and equipment through the platform, and this has resulted in a significant reduction of procurement costs and stock-outs of medical supplies,” adds Mugenzi.
Mukando Cesarie is a patient who has experienced the power of a well-equipped healthcare facility enabled by Viebeg’s innovation. “I was very sick, but with the gynecological machines here, the doctors were able to finally diagnose the problem. Now I am getting better after four surgery sessions. I am thankful for these services,” she said and expressed satisfaction with the attention she received at the Kigali-based Best Care Hospital in July 2022. She previously underwent a 10- hour surgery at a local hospital, but her condition worsened because the facility lacked the necessary equipment to diagnose her accurately.
Viebeg’s annual revenue increased from $80,000 to $180,000 six months after the funding from the Rwanda Innovation Fund, representing a 125 percent growth. Musyoka projects that the figure will grow to $2.5 million by the end of 2022.
Apart from improving revenues, the funding has enabled the company to, among other things, conduct training for its employees, access working capital, and employ more workers.
The African Development Bank invested $30 million in the Rwanda Innovation Fund. The Bank’s support aligns with the country’s National Information Communication Infrastructure (NICI) III Plan, which underscores the importance of ICT in improving service delivery to citizens.
Dr. Abdu Mukhtar, the Bank’s Director for Industrial and Trade Development, said: “Digital innovation can transform sectors, but it needs investment. Viebeg is a fantastic example of what can be achieved with the right mix of innovation, entrepreneurship, and financial backing. It is telling that the Rwanda Innovation Fund, initiated by the Rwandan government and financed, in part, by the African Development Bank, has been catalytic in the development of Viebeg. Local investment in a local business has brought transformative local results. It is a partnership model that can play well in other markets.”