by Joanne Carew

8 startups using tech to transform healthcare in sub-Saharan Africa

Jan 13, 2021
Healthcare IndustryStartupsTechnology Industry

Mobile apps, drones and other emerging technology is increasingly being deployed across Africa to provide high quality, easily accessible care to those in need at an affordable cost.

Temperature check health screening takes place in post-COVID office workspaces.
Credit: South Agency / Getty Images

Approximately 50% of all deaths and close to a third of disabilities in low- and middle-income countries could be avoided if people had access to better emergency care, according to medical journal Lancet. In fact, a 2018 study from the World Economic Forum (WEF) revealed that 29% of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa live more than two hours from the nearest hospital. 

In an attempt to remedy this situation, mobile apps and smart devices are increasingly being deployed to provide high-quality, easily accessible care to those in need at a reasonable cost. In 2020, the number of e-health start-ups operating across the African continent has hit an all-time high. Disrupt Africa’s 2020 healthcare report, High Tech Health: Exploring the African E-health Start-up Ecosystem, reveals that the number of start-ups active in health technology on the continent has grown by 56.5% since 2017.

“In many ways, now is a great time for the continent’s health-tech sector – there are huge opportunities to prove concepts, gain traction and achieve lasting change in healthcare,” said Gabriella Mulligan, co-founder of Disrupt Africa, in a statement about the report.

Below, we showcase the healthcare technology start-ups making an impact across Sub-Saharan Africa and outline how their work is transforming the industry. The list includes some companies that have headquarters outside Africa, but whose primary market was initially Africa.


Year Founded: 2013

Headquarters: Cape Town

Founder and CEO: Sheraan Amod

What they do: A 24-hour healthcare booking platform, RecoMed allows users to find quality healthcare providers, read recommendations from verified patients and book a consultation 24/7. RecoMed gives healthcare providers a way to grow their practices, charging doctors a percentage of their consultation fee to use the service. With over 2,000 healthcare providers using the platform, RecoMed is one of the leading healthcare booking portals in South Africa. 

Competitors include: Ingress Healthcare, Ollie Health

Customers: Patients seeking healthcare providers and healthcare providers looking to connect with patients and expand their practices.

Why they’re a healthcare tech start-up to watch: The medical bookings platform enjoyed a record number of bookings thanks to COVID-19. Bookings using the start-up’s platform increased by around 30% at the beginning of March, with new users up 10% when compared to the same period in 2019.


Year Founded: 2014

Headquarters: San Francisco

Co-founder and CEO: Keller Rinaudo

What they do: Zipline uses drones to deliver critical and lifesaving medical supplies — including blood, rabies vaccines and antivenom — to thousands of hard-to-reach health clinics in Rwanda and Ghana. The service began in Ghana’s two largest cities, Accra and Kumasi, and aimed to supply medical resources to people living in regions that lack adequate ground-based transportation infrastructure.

Competitors include: Skycart, HemoCue

Customers: Governments, pharmaceutical companies and large logistics networks.

Why they’re a healthcare tech start-up to watch: In May 2019, Zipline announced that it had secured $190 million in new financing, bringing the company’s valuation to $1.2 billion. The company started by offering services in Africa but during the COVID-19 pandemic, kicked off its US drone delivery programme by distributing personal protective gear and medical equipment in North Carolina.

Care Pay Limited

Year Founded: 2014

Headquarters: Amsterdam

CEO: Kees Van Lede

What they do: CarePay’s health benefit wallet operates on a mobile phone and allows users to save, receive and spend money on healthcare services. The system links directly with a patient’s healthcare provider and healthcare payer, like an insurer or donor, to ensure that treatment and payment is fast, efficient and transparent.

Competitors include: Health iPASS

Customers: Patients, healthcare providers and healthcare funders like medical aid companies and insurers.

Why they’re a healthcare start-up to watch: In May 2019, the company secured €40 million in a Series A financing round. The mobile health payments platform intended to use the funds to rollout their offering to new international markets.


Year Founded: 2013

Headquarters: Accra

Co-founder and CEO: Gregory Rockson

What they do: mPharma manages prescription drug inventory for pharmacies and their suppliers. mPharma’s drug monitoring system connects patients, hospitals and pharmacies to cloud-based software so that doctors know the exact location and availability of drugs in real-time and so that patients have more reliable access to medicine. 

Competitors include: Generico, Blink Health

Customers: Pharmacies, pharmaceutical suppliers, doctors and patients.

Why they’re a healthcare tech start-up to watch: In 2019, mPharma bought out Kenya’s second-largest pharmacy chain, Haltons, in an unprecedented deal for the African start-up ecosystem. In May 2020, mPharma announced that they had raised $17 million in their latest round of funding and that Helena Foulkes, the former president of CVS, the largest pharmacy retail chain in the US, would be joining their board.

Helium Health

Year Founded: 2016

Headquarters: Lagos

CEO and co-founder: Adegoke Olubusi 

What they do: Helium Health aims to accelerate Africa’s transition to a technology and-data driven healthcare sector. The health tech venture runs an online platform that helps hospitals and clinics manage their electronic medical records, providing a suite of full-service solutions for healthcare stakeholders in emerging markets.

Competitors include: TeamDesk, AdvancedMD

Customers: Healthcare stakeholders in emerging markets.

Why they’re a fintech start-up to watch: The company raised $10-million in a Series-A funding round in May 2020. The start-up plans to use the investment to expand its footprint and grow its customer base in Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia. This funding will also be utilised to support expansion into new markets like North Africa, East Africa and Francophone West Africa.

Vula Mobile

Year Founded: 2014

Headquarters: Cape Town

Founder and CEO: Dr William Mapham

What they do: The Vula Mobile app makes it easier for rural healthcare workers to refer patients to specialists. Today, the app offers access to more than 4 000 doctors and helps more than 19 000 patients per month. The range of specialities catered for include ophthalmology, cardiology, ear, nose and throat, burns, family medicine, HIV/ Aids and orthopaedics.

Competitors include: ReferralMD, Medscape

Customers: Healthcare workers who need help/advice from specialists.

Why they’re a health tech start-up to watch: Vula Mobile won the ‘Best Health App’ category at the 2019 MTN Business App of the Year Awards. And this year, healthcare professionals were given the chance to use the app to communicate with specialists about the treatment of potential COVID-19 cases.


Year Founded: 2016

Headquarters: New Haven, Connecticut

Co-founder and CEO: Adebayo Alonge

What they do: RxAll allows pharmacies and patients in Africa to buy high-quality, non-counterfeit medicines. The brand does so by authenticating and delivering high quality medication to the patients in need using an online platform.

Competitors include: BioBridges, Uniprix 

Customers: Pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and governments, as well as larger companies who are eager to purchase data from RxAll’s AI platform.

Why they’re a health tech start-up to watch: In September, RxAll was chosen to be part of a six-month Founders Factory Africa (FFA) Venture Scale Programme. The programme provides $300,000 in tailored support services and cash to support the growth of start-ups in Africa.


Year Founded: 2019

Headquarters: Lagos

Founder and CEO: Abasi Ene-Obong

What they do: 54gene seeks to address a significant gap in the global genomics market. About  90% of genetic material used in pharmaceutical research is from Caucasians. The African genomics research company addresses the need to include under-represented African genomic data in research, which could lead to significant medical breakthroughs worldwide.

Competitors include: Myriad, Audentes Therapeutics

Customers: The company collects DNA from Africans, with the aim being to unlock data that has previously been overlooked.

Why they’re a health tech start-up to watch: In April 2020, 54gene closed a $15 million Series A round, which brings the brand’s VC investment to $19.5 million. The start-up will use the capital to expand its biobank capabilities to 200 000 samples, with their longer term goal being to manage up to 500 000 samples.