By Cecilia Calatrava
From fitness trackers that count our daily 10,000 steps to meditation apps that support our mental well-being, technology plays an increasingly important role in how we manage our health.
But what if an app could count much more than steps, helping to control the progression of specific, lifelong health conditions?
Nowadays, about 50 per cent of the global population is affected by chronic illness. According to the World Health Organization, chronic diseases such as diabetes or hypertension are on the rise and together account for almost 70 per cent of all deaths worldwide. It has become an epidemic.
Arabic-speaking countries are not immune to this trend. Globally, they are among the regions with the highest prevalence of disorders such as type 2 diabetes. According to the International Diabetes Federation, more than 55 million people living in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have been diagnosed with diabetes. By 2045, this figure will rise to 108 million.
The numbers are startling, but here is the good news: proper management and lifestyle changes do help. A lot.
Using technology to help us help ourselves
Egypt-based doctor and health-tech entrepreneur Ahmed Zayed has always believed in the power of technology when facing complicated healthcare challenges.
While working on a research project about diabetes, he became increasingly concerned about the growing number of cases and about patients’ poor adherence to treatment and lifestyle modifications.
“As a doctor myself, I’ve seen how individuals with diabetes who actively participate in their own care have been shown to make a dramatic impact on the progression and development of their disease,” explains Dr. Zayed.
However, when his father was diagnosed with the chronic illness, he realised that things were not that straightforward.
“Current healthcare systems in Egypt and other Arab countries don’t provide proper services for diabetic patients. Doctor’s follow up visits were only every three months, and my father’s treatment plan included not only prescription drugs but also lifestyle modifications, such as diet and physical activities. It was overwhelming for him to be on top of his game,” he adds.
That is when Dr. Zayed decided to partner with successful tech entrepreneur Tarek Mandour to develop Mazboot, the first app in Egypt to educate, empower and motivate people with diabetes to manage their condition themselves.
The tool allows patients to track, record and chart their blood glucose levels. Its artificial intelligence-driven technology identifies blood sugar patterns linked with other important aspects such as diet, physical activity and medication. It also takes into account the specific habits of people in the region and provides real-time, clinically based feedback and coaching to patients.
Furthermore, the app can share diabetes data directly with the patient’s healthcare team, enabling general clinicians, endocrinologists and nutritionists to manage their patients in a smarter, more efficient way.
With donor support from South Korea via the Small Business Impact Fund* through our Star Venture programme**, the EBRD has supported Mazboot with funding and helped the company identify challenges, strengths and weaknesses, and develop a strong operational action plan.
“We all know that every tech start-up faces a lot of inevitable challenges. The entire process is an overwhelmingly daunting task, but the EBRD helped us on every step of the journey.”
The EBRD helped Mazboot develop a digital marketing strategy, a chatbot engine, a mobile application, online educational materials for users, software analysis, and a feasibility and market study for Mazboot’s expansion.
In addition, the Bank introduced top-notch mentors from the healthtech sector who shared their in-depth business know-how and experience to enable further growth.
Financially unburdening the health system with technology
Like any epidemic, diabetes poses a major challenge to healthcare systems. According to Dr. Zayed, total annual healthcare expenditure on diabetes and related complications is equivalent to more than US$ 20 billion in the MENA region and US$ 3 billion in Egypt alone.
“As we have seen in other countries, preventive healthcare represents the future of healthcare. Having a chronic disease means that a person is responsible for 99 per cent of their own care. By investing in empowering patients to take control of their own well-being, we are offering a promising strategy for treating chronic conditions while at the same time unloading a massive burden from our healthcare systems.”
So far, Mazboot has helped 5,000 active monthly users in Egypt to take the best care of themselves, including financially. The app not only looks after the financial interests of the health system, it also helps patients to face the financial burden of managing diabetes, by automatically finding tailored offers on all diabetes-management products, including equipment such as glucometer strips, medication and even healthy meals.