History says Africa used to be a health sector leader. The first known mention of medical practice is from the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, dating back to about 2600 BC. However, the practice evolved in other parts of the world, and Africa didn’t catch up. Modern medicine began after the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. However, African nations barely invested in their health infrastructure, so advancement came late. The Covid-19 pandemic showed how frail the sector was in Africa.
But many are rising to the occasion to reshape Africa’s health sector and speed up its growth. According to Baobab Insights, health-tech investment reached $106.7 million in 2020 across 62 funding rounds and represented 12 per cent of all disclosed investment rounds. This year, The HealthTech Hub Africa is adding to these numbers through its inaugural competition.
The top five winners are:
- 1. Insightiv – Rwanda
- 2. Medtech Africa – Nigeria
- 3. Klarah – Cameroon
- 4. Afia Group Limited (Afiapharma) – Rwanda
- 5. Lifesten Health – Rwanda
Insightiv Technologies, a Rwandan company, won the inaugural competition for African health start-ups and will receive a financial prize and other support to develop its technology. Insightiv’s innovative teleradiology and AI platform is designed to have a major impact in democratizing access to medical imaging diagnostics. The HealthTech Hub Africa is part of a new investment push that aims to revolutionize the development of health technologies designed by Africans for use in Africa.
The HealthTech Hub Africa will host up to 30 health technology start-ups from sub-Saharan Africa, at a new purpose-built facility located at Norrsken House in Kigali, Rwanda. It will also support a health tech network to bring policymakers and entrepreneurs together so that innovations can be scaled up rapidly. Supported by the Novartis Foundation, in collaboration with the Norrsken Foundation, the initial focus will be on technologies helping in the fight against heart disease, breast cancer, and in developing virtual health and care.
The 30 were chosen through an open competition, with the top five start-ups winning financial support. The first-place winner will receive USD 30,000, second place receives USD 20,000, third place receives USD 20,000, fourth place receives USD 10,000 and fifth place receives USD 5,000. Winners have come from Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria as well as Rwanda.
The winner of the competition, Insightiv, is developing advanced technology to help radiologists detect life-threatening diseases faster, making medical imaging timely and accessible. Audace Nakeshimana, the Founder & Executive Chairman of Insightiv said, “We are very excited with our forthcoming move to HealthTech Hub Africa. In Rwanda and across the continent, low access to radiologists is a profound healthcare challenge. We believe our technology will improve care by increasing the capacity of healthcare providers and enabling patients to be diagnosed accurately, efficiently, and remotely.”
Audace Nakeshimana founded Insightiv and began developing the technology in 2019 while completing his studies for a Computer Science degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S. He established the company in Rwanda to involve local talent in the development of the technology and ensure the solution can focus on solving the problem in an African context. This is particularly important as the regulatory and market constraints in Rwanda and other sub-Saharan countries are different from those in the global North.
Since 2000, life expectancy in Africa has increased by more than ten years, according to Dr. Ann Aerts, Head of the Novartis Foundation, but chronic conditions such as cancer and heart disease are becoming more common. “We hope the technologies developed at the HealthTech Hub Africa will make a real difference to accelerate detection and access to quality care for chronic diseases. The Novartis Foundation has had a long commitment to improving access to healthcare through breakthrough technologies,” she said.
This new development comes at a time where the global pandemic takes many lives every day. It calls for economic resilience and transformational digital technologies that can generate impactful change across all sectors. The HealthTech Hub Africa aims to be part of this drive towards technologies that deliver real social benefits.
Norrsken has raised several impact-focused venture capital funds, runs an impact-focused start-up accelerator program and operates two of the largest co-working spaces for technology companies focused on social impact in the world – in Stockholm, Sweden and in Kigali, Rwanda. The Foundation was set up by Niklas Adalberth, one of the founders of Klarah, a unicorn Swedish payments company, with the mission to help entrepreneurs solve the world’s greatest challenges.
“One of the world’s hardest and biggest problems is ensuring better health for the people of Africa in the face of staff shortages, budget constraints and the continuing threat from COVID-19,” said Pascal Murasira, Managing Director at Norrsken East Africa. “We believe that the health tech start-ups we have selected for Norrsken House Kigali and the HealthTech Africa Hub have the potential to help solve some of these challenges” he added.
The HealthTech Africa Hub will provide the selected start-ups with a state-of-the-art workplace together with mentoring, expert support and access to investor capital.
About the Novartis Foundation
The Novartis Foundation is a non-profit organization based in Switzerland. For over 40 years, the organization has helped improve the health of low-income populations, initially supporting disease elimination in areas such as leprosy and malaria. Today, it tackles the burning issues of the current time, cardiovascular diseases and health inequity. Novartis takes a population health approach, which means bringing together existing but disconnected data to help authorities understand the root causes of unequal health outcomes, and define the best ways and best partners to remediate those. This empowers governments to transform their health systems from being reactive to proactive, predictive and preventative, and achieve health equity among the populations they serve.
About the Norrsken Foundation
The Norrsken Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 2016 by the co-founder of Klarna, Niklas Adalberth. Its mission is to help entrepreneurs solve the greatest challenges facing the world today. Norrsken is non-religious and non-political — and has a strong belief in effective altruism.
The Foundation runs the award-winning hub Norrsken House in Stockholm, Sweden and in 2021 Norrsken is opening East Africa’s biggest hub for entrepreneurs in Kigali, Rwanda. The Foundation successfully incubated Norrsken VC – a €100 million impact VC fund investing in the best entrepreneurs that solve societal issues using technology and manage the Norrsken Impact Accelerator, supporting early-stage impact startups with funding, mentorship and growth support.