When his mother passed on a few years ago due to a wrong diagnosis, Tawanda Mushawedu had to run around looking for medical help but alas, there was nothing to save the life of his dear mother.
The emotional pain of being helpless in times when he could have done everything to save her triggered a once “wild thought” that promises to be a lifesaving, innovative initiative for many people who do not easily access medication.
“This is a critical innovation for communities, and for me, this is more like an emotional investment because my mother died of a wrong diagnosis. I remember we had to around in different places…” he told 263Chat on the first expedition of the initiative in Domboshawa.
Together with various stakeholders, Mushawedu and Regain37 Pvt Ltd, launched “ZimbosAbantu Healthcare on wheels” which is the first to market and first of its kind in Zimbabwe to offer mobile clinical and Medicare services.
But this is no ordinary van. Before the COVID-19 induced lockdown, the van was once a passengers “kombi” which, like many other kombis” used to be a menace on the road but has become a life savour for many.
The concept is a repurposed commuter omnibus that is equipped with a refrigerator, basic medical equipment with telemedicine functionalities. The refrigerator is powered by renewable energy (solar and wind energy.) All the designs and re-purposing is done in Zimbabwe by Regain37’s technical team.
“There is no power in the rural area to power these basic needs for a clinic hence we came up with the initiative that powers itself using solar and wind energy. The energy in the van is also used to connect to the doctors via the internet, he explained”
While Solar Energy is harnessed via solar panels on top of the omnibus, Wind Energy is harnessed by a Wind Turbine fixed on top of the van generating energy while the omnibus is moving.
All this is done to allow for easy access to medical attention for the vulnerable members of the community.
“We have a concept that we call Telemedicine so that we cut on the distance that women and children travel from their homestead to the local clinic. Our research tells us that 40% of the population has to travel more than five kilometres to the nearest clinic or hospital, so we are covering that gap,” Mushawedu said.
What his company is trying to do, he said, is to act as a link between clinical and community settings.
Mobile Health Clinics (MHCs) address both medical and social determinants of health, tackling health issues on a community-wide level.
Furthermore, evidence from other countries suggests that MHCs produce significant cost savings and represent a cost-effective care delivery model that improves health outcomes in underserved groups.
By opening their doors directly into communities and leveraging existing community assets, ZimbosAbantu can offer tailored, high-impact and affordable health care that responds dynamically to the community’s evolving needs.
“Basically, we are trying to fill in that gap where there are not so many clinics, against the population that we have. Perhaps, if we scale up this model, we will be able to fill in that gap,” he added.
Once fully operational, the initiative aims to reach vulnerable populations, by delivering services directly at the curbside in communities of need and flexibly adapting its services based on the changing needs of the target community
By delivering the necessary services right to clients’ doorsteps, often without fees and complex paperwork, ZimbosAbantu will serve individuals who may not have the time, resources and motivation to travel to traditional clinics.
“The van is equipped with internet access which allows our doctors and patients to connect via a virtual video. We have what we call a virtual video consultation centre where a doctor in another location will be able to connect to his patients wherever the van is”
“The platform allows us to pre-book appointments so that whenever we come, there will be patiently waiting for us,” Mushawedu further explained.
The company entered an agreement with Maisha Medic, an Econet Wireless initiative that provides a telecentre where patients call in and are referred to a waiting doctor.
On this day, at Pote Clinic, patience had been told to wait for the van, however, because the idea is alien to them, they decided to disperse before the mobile van could arrive.
CLOSING THE GAP DURING LOCKDOWN.
“During the lockdown, you will realize that a lot of people were scared to go to hospitals or clinics for one reason or the other… so there was no better option other than healthcare on wheels.
“Currently we have this one van as our prototype, but we are planning on having more of these in the next two to three weeks,” he added.
To add to the initiative, the mobile clinic will be equipped with a fully trained nurse and other health officials who will be providing quality health services to communities.
One of the nurses, Matron Mataga, who has 25 years of experience in the health industry sector lauded the initiative and the strong partnerships between Regain37 and other entities.
“Another unique feature of the mobile health van is our Memorandum of Understanding with the Cassava Smartech subsidiary, Maisha Medik, which is a Telemedicine platform equipped with a live video consultation with a doctor so that we can provide adequate care when the situation arises,” she said.
Monitoring and Evaluation Lead for the company, Kuda Manjonjo noted that the mobility of the vans was done intentionally to ensure that there are Social Returns and Sustainable Impact (Addressing UN SDG Goal 3-Improving Health and Well-Being) to underserved communities who in Zimbabwe are disproportionately rural women and children.
Regain37 currently holds observation missions with Makumbe District Hospital on their Health Education and Clinical Campaigns in Goromonzi District.
In this project, Makumbe hospital provides primary health care services with its focus being Health Education, Maternal Child Health, Nutrition, and Expanded Programmes on Immunization while Regain37 learns from them.
“Our main aim is to provide mobile vaccination, carrying out immunization programs. Right now, COVID-19 vaccines are topical hence there is the expectation that we will be providing the vaccine.
“We are keen on working with the government, we are keen on working with the private sector so that we work on getting the last-mile delivery on vaccines. We are trying to bring vaccines at the workplaces, keeping the companies running,” Mushawedu said.
He further noted that understanding the economic and social impact that mobile clinics will be having in communities should provide the evidence to justify policies that will enable expansion and optimal integration of mobile clinics into the healthcare delivery system, and help address current and future health crises.
With national efforts to combat health disparities by addressing social determinants of health, there is now more than ever the need to consider cohesive funding for mobile health clinics.