Al Maktoum Initiatives | Alicia Buller
THREE YEARS AGO ANASS EL HILAL WAS TAKING THE SEEMINGLY ROUTINE TRAIN TRIP TO VISIT HIS FAMILY IN MOROCCO. LITTLE DID HE KNOW THIS JOURNEY WAS SET TO CHANGE HIS LIFE, AS WELL AS THE LIVES OF COUNTLESS OTHERS. “I WAS IN THE RAILWAY STATION AND AN ELDERLY WOMAN FAINTED IN FRONT OF ME,” HE SAYS, “SHE SUFFERED FROM KIDNEY FAILURE BECAUSE COULDN’T GET TO THE HOSPITAL’S DIALYSIS CENTRE IN TIME.” IT WAS IN THIS MOMENT THAT EL HILAL CONCEIVED THE IDEA OF A MOBILE HEALTHCARE SYSTEM.
Described by El Hilal as the ‘Uber of healthcare’, his brainchild MedTrucks is now being piloted by Moroccan and French governments, with plans to extend across Africa. The tech firm uses an app-based system to deploy fully equipped renal care trucks to remote areas. He explains that, much in the style of car share firm Uber, MedTrucks is able to map national demand for renal services and deliver the right healthcare at the right time to the right place.
“We connect patients with healthcare players. We equip the healthcare players with medical trucks. For each dialysis session provided via our platform we divide the fare, usually 80 per cent for the healthcare player and 20 per cent to our company. The health care provider pays us for each dialysis session.
The burden of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) is rapidly increasing across the world, propelled by the rising prevalence of two major risk factors: diabetes and hypertension. Kidney failure is a chronic disease which affects 250 million people globally, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Around two million people are undergoing dialysis and 1.2 million premature deaths are caused each year due to lack of access to dialysis.
MedTrucks currently works by mapping patients using government data and feeding the statistics into the app system to locate renal treatment demand. In countries where government information is less available, the firm is looking to distribute GPS smart phones to local organisations to carry out data collection. “We’ve already mapped a third of Morocco,” explains Hilal.
His company also developing services such as real-time cartography and tracking to optimise care service delivery to patients, and a medical online training platform for professionals. El Hilal says his main clients are public health authorities, but in time this could extend to private health care players too.
Currently MedTrucks is able to offer healthcare organisations the purchase option of the MedTruck, which has six patient seats, as well access to the app technology to optimise deployment of the truck. EL Hilal says, “the first aim is to locate the patient and see how far away they are. How many are there and how far away are they from the centre? Our mapping tool allows us to discover real time patient locations.”
The firm is currently running its largest pilot to date in Morocco. The project features trucks with triple metric dialysis units and six chairs, which allows a group of 36 patients to be treated in one truck throughout the day.
EL Hilal says, “We hope to be able to spread the project all around Africa. As we are a mobile unit we don’t have any borders and we can go to any area easily. That’s the advantage of a mobile unit.”
In the coming years, the MedTrucks founder says he plans to help meet global demand for treatment for a wider spectrum of chronic diseases, such as diabetes. According to the WHO, an ageing global population and changes in societal behaviour are contributing to a steady increase in long term, incommunicable diseases.
A recent report from PWC, ‘Emerging Trends in Healthcare’, adds: “Emerging markets will be hardest hit, as population growth is anticipated be most significant in developing nations. Increased demand on healthcare systems due to chronic disease has become a major concern.”
The report explains that new delivery models, such as MedTrucks, are emerging to address growing chronic care demands. “Technology has a key role to play. Advancements in precise detection and diagnoses of disease will go far to minimise the cost of treating chronic conditions. New entrants into the healthcare market are expanding and reshaping the system.
“The sector is placing greater emphasis on preventive health solutions and patient-centric care. This opens the door for industries such as retail, telecommunications, technology, wellness and fitness to bring innovative solutions to chronic disease prevention and management challenges.”
Al Hilal says that MedTrucks are suitable for treating chronic diseases because the patient can be treated according to a schedule. “Chronic disease are easy to manage within certain dimensions and we can give treatment either once a week, twice a week or once a month. With our Geographic Information System technology, we can easily manage the demands. Chronic diseases will be the main beneficiary of MedTrucks.”
EL Halal’s three-man team will be under pressure to get their business up and running across multiple continents in the coming years. But the entrepreneur says his burning ambition is driven by the mission to save lives through social technology.
“By deploying healthcare close to the patient we improve their daily lives. We save them travelling time, which is often up to six hours. The less they travel, the better they feel and the less anxious they are about spending half their salary on train travel.”