Poco - mobile Health Care for rural populations

Poco - mobile Health Care for rural populations

South Africa
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
< $1,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Poco is a mHealth solution that aims to extend public health care networks to every citizen, particularly in Africa, allowing access to medical help anywhere.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In rural parts of Africa access to health care is often limited to physical locations such as hospitals, clinics and doctor's rooms. However many villages don't have any of these and thus villagers have to travel for sometimes many hours to reach their nearest medical professional. This can lead to unnecessary loss of income, expenditure and most of all, loss of life. Poco aims to provide access to government health care services via SMS and USSD, allowing quick medical advice, consultation and life-saving first aid advice. This not only prevents unnecessary visit to the doctor but can also save lives by providing critical advice and initiating a medical evacuation, while coming at a minimal cost to the user. Cellular coverage is the most accessible type of communication in Africa.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Poco uses SMS and USSD, allowing patients to submit a request or information which the Poco servers will then analyze for keywords to automatically categorize then forward to a government clinic with a low load at the time. The nurse at the clinic will review the message, assign it a priority and then refer it to a doctor. The doctor will then read and respond to the message accordingly. All of this occurs within a timeframe of 10 - 60 minutes depending on priority. Ultimately this allows users in rural areas without constant access to a GP or other medical advice quick feedback on medical issues. It allows governments to expand their health care reach and lastly allows the tracking of illnesses by monitoring requests to see where certain diseases and infections start and how they spread.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The primary objective of Poco is to develop it as a not-for-profit technology and launch a pilot project in cooperation with the South African government (with whom I am in talks). After a successful pilot I intend to hand Poco over to the government at no cost for them to implement as part of their national health care strategy to provide health care to the remote population. Poco is applicable not just in South Africa but all of Africa and the world, for farms, villages and settlements far from the nearest medical center, as well as urban cities, a system that provides medical feedback via a mobile phone is immensely useful. We don't plan on making a profit from Poco. Poco is self-sustaining through SMS premium code revenue (e.g. $0,20/SMS with $0,02 going to Poco). The running costs amoung to system maintenance, hosting costs and the USSD and SMS API costs with in South Africa amount to less than $50 per month. Poco is this very viable, as it relies mostly on existing health care infrastructure. Taking existing doctors and clinics and allowing them to reach not just the patients in their physical vicinity but also reach out to communities far away. Poco makes health care a universally accessible service for all, independent of location or wealth.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are a few similar solutions in existence, most notably MTN/Sanlam's mHealth network which provides mobile diagnostics. This is only available to MTN subscribers however and builds its own infrastructure of doctors and a control center rather than integrating into the existing public health care system. Vodacom, one of SA's largest mobile service providers, is also working on a mobile health care system along the lines of the MTN/Sanlam solution but again are running it for-profit/break-even not for the greater communal good and to integrate it with government health services. Poco is unique in that it aims to augment existing health services at no additional cost or burdern, simply extending the reach of the public health sector rather than establishing an additional provider.

Founding Story

My idea was not part of some great inspirational "Aha!" moment, but born out of circumstance. I read about the ITU Open Innovation competition and thought about potential entries and thus was born Poco. However, due to my past medical experiences, mostly a very traumatic and serious motorbike accident in 2010 which nearly killed me had it not been for immediate advanced medical care, I do feel very passionate about Poco. Poco has the potential to change the face of health care as it is today, allowing people who would not normally be able to seek the advice of a doctor medical feedback. If I had broken my leg in a rural area instead of a city in that motorbike accident I would probably have died but Poco could have provided life-saving first aid advice on how to stop bleeding and initiated a medical evacuation. Poco has so much potential and is truly a concept to change how government's work in their health care provisioning.
About You
Mikehub (Pty) Ltd
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Mikehub (Pty) Ltd

Organization Country

, WC

Country where this project is creating social impact

, WC

How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

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How long have you been in operation?

Still in idea phase, but looking to launch soon

Which of the following best describes the barrier(s) your innovation addresses? Choose up to two

Access, Equity.

Social Impact
Please describe the goal of your initiative; outline what you are trying to achieve

I am trying to achieve a change in government's medical provisioning service. Governments have so much technology but fail to use it efficiently. Using Poco governments can provide health care in areas that would normally been out of their reach and this extend their service delivery and improve the lives of all citizens. Poco isn't for profit, Poco is an initiative 100% for the public good. Hopefully one day all the world's governments will adopt systems similar to Poco and allow everyone to access health care instantly via their phones.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

The idea is still in its early stages with a prototype in development but currently Poco is seeking funding. Not much funding is required to turn Poco into a reality and the government of the Western Cape has expressed their interest in such a solution. Poco was also well received at the ITU Telecom World 2011 in Geneva, where it was selected as one of 30 finalists in the Open Innovation competition in the Young Innovators category. Poco was thus pitched and presented to a host of industry leaders in telecommunications and government representatives.

What is your projected impact over the next five years?

Over the next five years Poco hopes to launch successful pilot projects, starting with one in the Western Cape and then another 2 - 5 across South Africa. Thereafter Poco will hopefully be adopted nationwide by the South African government and start expanding internationally, being offered free of cost to other African governments.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

There are legal concerns that must be addressed, such as the provision of medical diagnoses via telecommunications as well as the hurdle of both government and user acceptance. Governments need to cooperate to provide the resources of clinics and doctors, while users must be aware of the system and willing to use it to access health care information.
Another hurdle are potential competition such as MTN/Sanlam and Vodacom, though their commercial focus seems short-sighted and I don't foresee a serious threat by them.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

In six months Poco should have launched a successful pilot project in a qualifying community in the Western Cape in SA.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Complete a working prototype of the system

Task 2

Gain government and communal support for the system

Task 3

Gain funding to implement the SMS and USSD channels and install any necessary hardware in clinics.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

In 12 months Poco should have impacted communities across SA with comprehensive feedback on its effectiveness

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Gain government support on a national level

Task 2

gain sufficient funding for additional pilot projects / be sustainable

Task 3

have sufficient user acceptance for the system to be in regular use

Tell us about your partnerships

As a student at the University of Cape Town in the Information Systems department my department has offered me their full support in terms of knowledge and advice as well as the use of our soon-to-be-completed mobile innovation lab in partnership with Samsung.
I have also contacted the Western Cape government who have expressed interest in such a system and will pursue a potential partnership both in terms of communal/health resources as well as finance.

Are you currently targeting other specific populations, locations, or markets for your innovation? If so, where and why?

Currently Poco is aimed primarily and foremost at low income families and individual in remote rural communities and farms that do not have direct access to a health care provider, specifically the government's health services which are free of charge to a certain level.
A potential growth strategy, failing adoption by government, sees the provision of premium health services at a subscription rate to middle to high income households in rural as well as urban areas.

What type of operating environment and internal organizational factors make your innovation successful?

Poco is built on a PHP & MySQL platform, able to run on virtually any computer. It relies only on a SMS/USSD gateway provided by a cellular service provider and the implied loyalty of the clinics/doctors.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list