It has been a challenging year all round due to the complications and threats posed by the Covid-19 Pandemic but the challenges have presented opportunities for those in the medical and healthcare industry. One person who was primed to take advantage is Zimbabwean-born Garikai Govati (AKA Gazah), the founder of Epione.Net and a pioneer in the healthcare space.
During the pandemic his company was able to develop an incredibly useful Coronavirus testing app and the timing of this advancement couldn’t have been better. We spoke to the healthcare entrepreneur about his background and the work he’s done in the fight against Covid-19.
As the founder of epione.net, you have an incredible profile in the healthcare industry. How did the vision for this revolutionary company come to you?
The idea and eventual vision for epione.net came as a solution to another healthcare challenge I was trying to solve for in the day hospital space – the idea of a marketplace for theatre space – connecting surgeons with theatre space. Upon creating a model connecting surgeons to hospitals to optimise the usage of theatre space in day hospital, a marketplace for theatre space was required to complete the puzzle. After searching far and wide, including having numerous conversations with some of the most prominent healthcare technology companies in the US, it became clear there was no such thing as a ‘marketplace for theatre space’. Thus the process of scoping such a platform began – including a lot of drawings on napkins during coffee breaks! As part of this initial scoping, I consulted a technology house in Johannesburg which reaffirmed my decision to develop this solution in-house. At first the idea was to connect surgeons to theatre space but upon realising that other inefficiencies that exist along the healthcare value chain, the platform scoping expanded to include the referral channel from the primary care clinicians to all other providers of healthcare, and the transfer of patient data between concerned care givers. Ultimately, the goal was to enable patients to access healthcare at their fingertips and eventually own their healthcare information. Indeed, this vision stretched beyond country borders; a person in Nigeria should be able to seek healthcare in South Africa and have their surgery done in Kenya – a truly connected healthcare world.
For someone who doesn’t know epine.net at all – how would you describe what your company does in simple terms?
epione.net is a healthtech solution designed and developed to improve processes in the public and private healthcare sector by creating a secure platform which connects patients, healthcare professionals, hospital facilities, diagnostics centres and healthcare funders, to promote a seamless continuum of collaborative care.
The value of our platform is that it truly empowers the individual with ownership and knowledge of their healthcare information – your healthcare at your fingertips.
You’ve been operating for nearly four years now. What have you learned along the way that you might not have expected at the beginning of the journey?
We have been in existence for nearly four years and we have been operational for only a few months. The biggest difference between building a healthcare technology business and any other technology enabled business is that healthtech presents a lot of complexities associated with data privacy and connected health. One of the biggest challenges within our health systems in Africa is the lack of an end-to-end patient care coordination and management system. There has been considerable growth in technological solutions within the healthcare space, from booking systems to electronic medical records and billing platforms. However, these solutions remain siloed, offering only a limited view of the patient’s medical journey thus making it difficult to solve the challenges that most business are supposed to be solving – access to quality, affordable and sustainable healthcare. Solving this iron triangle with one platform is a huge task that requires a coordinated efforts and deep understanding of the healthcare systems prevailing in Africa. I thought we would have a platform with paying clients 6-9 months after starting the building of the platform – I was wrong by more than 3 years. It really takes time, patience and endurance to come up with someone close to what we have and, once you have a working platform, adding value-added solutions becomes much easier.
We have also faced all kinds of other challenges at different stages of our journey! From funding; to challenges with recruitment of scarce IT talent like software developers; to navigating tricky regulatory environments; and of course, the ever present challenge of ensuring we are marketing ourselves effectively and getting as many users and doctors as possible on-boarded onto the platform and downloading the patient APP; to forming partnerships with government and corporates.
The great thing about having such a passionate, diverse, educated and experienced team is that we really get to solve problems quite creatively. When we couldn’t find success recruiting though traditional channels, we tapped into our social networks to find the amazing developers who are part of our team today. Honestly, we’ve found some of the best people through WhatsApp forwards! We’ve also been helped a great deal by partners such as Global Citizen who provided us with a marketing intern for three months to help us design and implement key marketing initiatives. We eventually made a full-time offer to her and she’s now a part of our team. Before we had the capacity to build our platform entirely in-house, we had to get creative and partner with development houses in India and Ukraine! It wasn’t always an easy ride working remotely and across culture lines, but we’ve taken the professional and personal lessons from those experiences and applied those internally. All in all, although we’ve been faced with all sorts of challenges, and will no doubt continue to be, we know that if we put our heads together we can come up with something! Sometimes it doesn’t work, but when it does we celebrate and keep striving to do better.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your business and what have you had to adapt in order to meet shifting demands?
Like any other start-up, the COVID-19 pandemic has tested our ability to be agile and adapt to adverse environments. We have so far survived the tide and have launched and still are moving towards launching key products to help in fighting the pandemic. We have, in the midst of all this, remained focused on our inner northern star – the fight to enable access to quality and affordable healthcare for all.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital channels to support our healthcare sector have become even more crucial. As such, we have enhanced our platform and patient mobile application to equip our users with the tools to support the tracking, tracing, processing and monitoring (self-monitoring and mass monitoring), of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 cases, in line with WHO and CDC guidelines.
We are particularly cognisant of supporting a government’s response to COVID-19, so we are especially excited to share the special features we have designed specifically to support a government in managing its response to COVID-19. These features will enable a government to fully digitise any mass screenings; ensure more effective channeling of patients to public and private sector doctors, testing sites and isolation centres electronically – all while gaining valuable population health data and insights to assist with planning and resourcing.
Lastly, and in looking forward, we are releasing our economic and lifestyle activities resumptions platform that ensure safe return to normalcy (in its newest definition). We are calling this the ReOpen with epione.net platform and it is app and web based – with consideration to those who do not own smartphones. We have basically ensured that we cover the whole economy – the corporates (large and SMEs), the schools, restaurants, tourism and hospitality industry, resumption of sporting activities, churches, ensuring safe travel in all its forms – public transportation including taxis, e-hailing, air travel, etc. – ensuring our home services professionals such as handymen, cleaners, etc. all return safely to work.
Where would you like to see the business grow in the next 5 years?
I think of ourselves as a category defining product – we are bringing healthcare into the hands of the end consumer by fully integrating the healthcare value chain end-to-end. From a product point of view, I always reserve my comments on how the business will look given the ever-changing healthcare space and also how our product roadmap has changed over the last few months. From a strategic point of view, the next five years are for us to start by stabilizing and solidifying our position on the African continent. I also say that understanding the difficulties associated with doing business on the African continent but we believe that what we are solving for has merits in ensuring a healthier and more productive Africa.
Where did your passion for the healthcare industry come from?
I lost my father when I was 6 years old to some health complication that even up to now, I still do not understand. At the age of 16, my brother passed away due to immunocompromisation and this story is not a unique one to me, we just experience the same version and respond in our own unique ways. Having grown up in extreme poverty, I knew that if we had proper access to healthcare, all the death would have been avoided. Healthcare became my passion and I decided I was going to pursue ways to improve healthcare for all Africans who don’t have proper access to it. My path to now has been that of finding a way to follow my passion and at one point, I just had to take the jump.
Our team is a proudly African with global and local healthcare context. We understand the challenges that we face in the healthcare space in Africa having gone through them ourselves. Our educational and career paths took us all into the healthcare space – with other vast experienced that taught us all pillars of business – and have acquired global knowhow on how to solve issues we face in Africa but also remaining grounded in our local contextual nuances of being in Africa – we are a group of Africans solving a specific African challenge of healthcare armed with our training and experience.
What are 5 human traits that you value in a colleague/employee?
We have grown past the norm of employer-employee and work in a partnership and within that I value the following:
- Hard work
- Domain Expertise + Local Context
- Strive for Excellence