What M-Pesa did for mobile money, M-Tiba is about to do for health

Featured on LinkedIn Article, Feb 12, 2016

What if the unprecedented rise of mobile phones and mobile money in Kenya can be extended to radically change healthcare as well? I can tell you that Safaricom, PharmAccess and CarePay have developed the technology to potentially do exactly that. A new mobile ‘health wallet’ called M-Tiba is proving that it is possible to reach people who so far have remained off the radar. M-Tiba is bringing improved care to slum dwellers and rural populations and has the potential to make healthcare truly inclusive.

M-Tiba (M stands for mobile and Tiba means “care” in Swahili) delivers a mobile ‘health wallet’ that will allow people to save, insure, and share money for healthcare on their phone. Donors and insurers can use M-Tiba to offer healthcare financing products, such as vouchers, managed funds and low cost health insurance, to specific segments of the Kenyan population. Use of these funds is restricted to conditional spending at select healthcare providers who form part of a nationwide M-Tiba network.

Through smart segmentation, we are able to reach people who up to now have been largely excluded from any support. We can give them the peace of mind that they can pay for healthcare when they need it and empower them to choose the care they need. Together with Amref Health Africa we have been given the opportunity to scale-test M-Tiba. The Dutch Postcode Lottery has funded our joint program with 10 million Euros, with the objective to make money and healthcare directly available to women and their families via their mobile telephones.

Take for instance Theresa, the lady in the picture. Theresa is a mother of two who lives in the slums of Kibera in Nairobi. She makes a small living as a hairdresser, specialized in hair extensions. Theresa took part in one of our first pilot programs that we launched over a year ago. I have met her several times, and every time I speak to her, I am inspired.

I am inspired for many reasons: first of all, for Theresa it was very easy to understand the concept of having a health wallet on your mobile phone. With M-Pesa so widely accepted across Kenya, now having an “M-Pesa for health” was just a logical next step for her (for readers who don’t know about M-Pesa: please have a read here or here about the world's leading mobile money platform originating from Kenya). Theresa also clearly explains it in this video: “it is only meant for health.”

Secondly, Theresa’s story confirms that she really trusts her M-Tiba health wallet. And Theresa is not the only one. To test our systems, this year we gave 5000 mothers in the slums of Nairobi a 1000 shilling voucher (USD 10) in their M-Tiba wallets, to be spent on healthcare for their children under the age of five. After having experienced M-Tiba, 79% of these women asked us if they could start saving money in their M-Tiba wallets themselves. To be very clear: these are women living in slum areas in Nairobi such as Kayole, Mathare, and Githogoro. They have very little cash to spare, yet feel comfortable entrusting that precious small amount to their M-Tiba account.

So how does it work? Unlike normal M-Pesa, the value stored in an M-Tiba wallet can hold different forms: Theresa’s own health savings, her health insurance cover or her free health benefits. For example, a government or donor can provide a mobile voucher for a certain type of medical treatment. Theresa can use such a voucher in her M-Tiba wallet to pay for treatment at one of the clinics selected for the voucher program and linked to the M-Tiba platform. The clinic bills Theresa by submitting the treatment data through a tablet or a PC.

The treatment data is then checked by a medical person. If the treatment is approved, Theresa’s payment request is accepted and the money is transferred to the healthcare provider. With traditional, paper based insurance or voucher systems, healthcare providers often need to wait for many months until they get paid. But since M-Tiba is integrated with M-Pesa, the money now arrives at the facility almost instantaneously after the treatment has been approved.

This digitization takes inefficiencies out of the system and increases transparency and accountability for funders, healthcare providers and, most importantly, patients.

With Safaricom’s unparalleled reach and trust with the Kenyan people, PharmAccess’ experience as a healthcare innovator and CarePay’s revolutionary transaction platform connecting donors, insurers, healthcare providers and patients, we hope that all these benefits can in future become available to thousands of healthcare providers and millions of people across Kenya.

This is what we start to make happen for women and their children together with Amref Health Africa and with support of the Dutch Postcode Lottery. Besides Amref impressive track record in bolstering the health sector in Africa, this clever partnership will allow us to connect M-Tiba to training courses for medical staff, personal treatment vouchers, and quality improvement in clinics. In addition, we are about to start a large trial program in 8 Nairobi slums, thanks to our first donor partner, the Pfizer Foundation

However, the road to full healthcare inclusion is still long and we need the support of many more partners to turn this goal into a reality. So, if you are or know one of those potential partners, let’s talk!

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