If there’s one thing that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has proven, it is that the healthcare system in South Africa is in drastic need of major transformation. One of the biggest issues highlighted by the pandemic is the iniquity in access to care, but there are signs that one of the effects of COVID-19 will be a stepping up of accessibility, reform-driven in particular by technology.
When it comes to healthcare innovation, Abdul-Malick Salie CA(SA) is at the top of his game and changing the South African healthcare landscape.
Together with two medical doctors, Chad Marthinussen and Wade Palmer, Salie in 2020 founded InnoHealth, a Cape Town-based health-tech start-up with a focus on providing solutions for quality, affordable and equitable healthcare to everyone on the African continent. InnoHealth recently announced that it has secured an undisclosed seven-figure investment from a Hong Kong-based VC.
COVID-19 has made virtual healthcare a necessity for patients worldwide and the start-up has managed to leverage the current market boom.
The seed capital will go towards expanding the company’s MyPocketHealth app, an AI-based digital healthcare platform that is set to disrupt the South African health-tech space and position InnoHealth at the forefront of digital healthcare in the country.
The premise of the business is providing healthcare solutions by leveraging technology and the developers’ intimate knowledge of the South African healthcare industry to overcome barriers to accessing healthcare services from a location, resource and financial point of view. The idea is also to leverage the latest technology in the biotech space to improve vaccine development in Africa.
MyPocketHealth app is a wellness platform that will provide users with remote patient diagnostic devices as well as access to physical healthcare services, mental wellbeing services and financial wellness opportunities.
The app will allow anyone from all walks of life to access virtual medical advice and scripts and will facilitate the exchange of medical records between doctors and patients without having to visit the doctor’s rooms or clinic. The platform would reduce the need for in-person medical consultations, allowing patients to access the best, most affordable medical advice and care from their phones. It will also relieve pressure from primary healthcare facilities in private and public health care through the delivery of preventive care services.
‘The business was the brainchild of two young and inspirational medical doctors and as they explained the issues they experienced in our public healthcare system to me, it reminded me of the long hours my grandparents and more so my dad spent waiting for treatment and medication using the public health care system,’ explains Salie, the financial head of the team. ‘The elderly and sick could spend an entire day waiting for a 15-minute high-level consult with a doctor and be sent to another line for a few hours waiting for medication.’
Another issue noted was the education gap and understanding between the doctor and the patient regarding the patient’s condition as well as the cost of products and insurance in the market is accessible to most of the population. ‘So, considering these three primary system failures, we developed the MyPocketHealth app to provide a patient-centric marketplace on a seamless platform bringing together the doctor, the patient and insurers digitally, in a cost-effective and time-efficient manner where the patient is the custodian of its electronic medical history.’
As a qualified chartered accountant, Salie has more than 19 years’ experience, holding numerous directorships across various industries, including financial and information technology sectors. Directorships include both listed and unlisted companies as executive and non-executive director. His core skill set, according to him, is in corporate finance, encompassing mergers and acquisitions, valuations, capital raising, strategy, commercialisation and business turnaround. ‘I have served on the board of a diversified listed investment company, AEEI Ltd, as the chief information officer (CIO) responsible for corporate finance and advisory. Industries invested in included fishing and aquaculture, technology, biotech, agri and tourism.’
During his tenure as CIO, his team successfully listed two of these segments separately to unlock stakeholder value and raise capital for further growth. In preparation for these listings, he concluded strategic, well-priced acquisitions to enhance and achieve the value proposition to be realised through listing.
In 2017, the same corporate finance team, led by him as CIO, was ranked 17th by dealmakers in South Africa, with a transaction value of R21,2 billion in the category General Corporate Finance. In the category Mergers and Acquisitions, the same team placed 43rd with transaction values of R120 million.
‘Earlier in my career, I served in operational, financial and audit posts for multinational groups both locally and internationally. International experience included performance audits and reviews for the United Nations in the USA and African countries. Multinationals included Vodacom and the Naspers Group, holding various management and operational roles within these groups,’ says Salie.
For him, becoming a CA(SA) takes you through the process of becoming a problem-solver. ‘You are geared to face complex abstract issues and break down these issues to their route causes through analytical thinking and then develop solutions to address them. And in any new venture, you are faced with constant hurdles and risks, and my belief is not to stop at identifying those risks as a CA, but developing solutions and then actually implementing them. To date, I have adopted this way of thinking and it’s helped us take a concept and move it into something tangible.’
Salie describes both medical doctors he works with as truly visionary with different strengths which are immensely complementary. ‘One is a brilliant technologist, constantly studying global trends. The other one has a true passion for medical care and evolving patient care. I believe adding my skillset assisted in structuring these passions into a commercially viable and sustainable business. These combined complementary skill sets have created a strong value proposition and we seeing this with continuous investor interest.’
‘As a company and as a team, funders are backing us as a collective. From a skillset and execution perspective, we have two medical professionals spearheading this tech and someone who can translate that into the financial commercial language. This execution is what’s driving investor interest,’ Salie said.
The vision is to position InnoHealth at the forefront of digital healthcare in South Africa, easing the delivery of primary healthcare services and products. The idea is not to only address healthcare inaccessibility and inequality but also to provide comfort and empowerment to users by increasing access through preventive care.
E-health in Africa
As of July 2021, according to the High-Tech Health: Exploring the African E-health Startup Ecosystem Report 2020 released by Disrupt Africa, the number of African e-health start-ups operating across the continent hit an all-time high at 180 active companies. The number of start-ups active in the health-tech on the continent has grown by 56,5% over the last three years These companies raised over $90 million in 2020 alone. More than half of all funding to have gone into the space in the past five years was transacted in the first half of 2020.
E-health in Africa involves a lot of moving pieces. But if the pandemic has taught us something, it’s that Africa is fertile with innovation.