In Senegal, the high cost of health care is prompting tech entrepreneurs to come up with solutions to meet the needs of poor families. To this effect, VoLo and JokkoSanté were two tech startups recognized for their innovations at a late 2015 event organized by the Embassy of Switzerland and an organization representing IT workers and business people in Senegal. VoLo is a mobile directory of Senegalese clinics, health care professionals and pharmacies that offer their services at low prices. JokkoSanté is a brilliant concept that involves the participation of local pharmacies and patients willing to donate their surplus medications.
JokkoSanté was developed by Adama Kane, a tech entrepreneur based in Dakar. For years, Kane and his wife had tried to have a baby but had difficulty due to fertility issues. When their son finally arrived in 2013, Kane gathered all the unused medication prescribed to his wife during the six years of fertility therapy. He noticed that many of the medications had not expired and thought about how much of a waste it would have been to throw them all away, particularly when there so many Senegalese families who cannot afford medicines.
Jokko translates to communication while Santé means health. Through the use of the app, patients are encouraged to gather their unused medicines and return them to specific pharmacies where they can be given points in exchange; these points can be collected and redeemed for future prescriptions. Let’s say a woman is prescribed a whole jar of folic acid during her pregnancy; once she delivers, she can launch the JokkoSanté app to exchange her unused tablets, and she could use the points to get other vitamins while she is breastfeeding.
Kane though about creating a small-scale economy that involved the efficient use of prescriptions. Taking advantage of his tech background in telecommunications, Kane developed an app inspired by the success of M-Pesa, the Kenyan system of wireless funds transfers. He thought about members of the Senegalese diaspora working abroad who send remittances to help their families back home. Instead of money, Kane thought, people could earn points to send to their families for the purpose of redeeming them for medication. Initially, Jokko Santé worked with a small network of one hospital and six pharmacies. Future plans include expanding across Senegal and in other African nations where French is spoken. The Ministry of Health in Senegal has been very supportive of the app, and there are plans to make it work even without an internet connection so that it can also work in rural villages.
Best of all, the JokkoSanté app features a corporate social responsibility campaign whereby companies can donate points to low-income families with young children who need medications. These are the same companies that provide donations to keep JokkoSanté financially solvent.