With the global COVID-19 pandemic frustrating world leaders and seemingly defying known medical solutions, the call for swift innovation and strategic leadership in the healthcare sector is now apt.
This past September, in the light of this, Dr Funmi Adewara, a United Kingdom (UK)-based Nigerian female medical doctor, who has demonstrated healthcare innovation and leadership in recent years, has been honoured with the World Bank’s global SDGs and Her award, making her the first Nigerian woman to win the award since its inception in 2018.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Her Award is an international competition for woman-led micro and small enterprise to showcase how they are supporting the SDGs through their business operations. For this year’s contest, in the face of the pandemic, a World Bank representative, in terms of the women that won the contest, added, “But are also demonstrating resilience as they respond to the challenges of COVID-19.”
The contest attracts women entrepreneurs and leaders around the world working in the SDGs sectors, but SDG 5 in particular. The screening is usually done by a university partner and then judged by an expert panel that determines the winners based on the impact on the SDGs, vision and purpose, and clarity of the entries.
This year, the World Bank, in partnership with UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Women and the Wharton School Zicklin Centre honoured eight women business owners, including Funmi Adewara, with the award.
In Africa, especially in Nigeria, women like Adewara are seldom recognised for their work and leadership expertise. This led her in a video with Lolade Oresanwo, during the UK-African Investment Summit, early this year, to confront some of the socio-economic myths of Africa. In addressing the myth that ‘woman rarely hold position of power in Africa’, Adewara lamented that gender inequality is a global issue, which is not peculiar to Africa alone, adding with optimism that African women have made tremendous progress in this regard. “It’s a work in progress, and we’ll continue to advocate for this,” she said.
A University of Ibadan MBBS graduate, a Cambridge University master’s holder in Bioscience Enterprise with about 15 years of medical practice, and the founder and CEO of MobiHealth International, Adewara has used her innovative and leadership skills to change the dismal narrative of Nigeria’s health sector by leveraging technology.
Last year October, when asked in a Saturday Tribune interview what motivated her to found MobiHealth, Dr Adewara went memory lane about her childhood health challenges and her first-hand medical training where she witnessed people, especially women and children, suffering and dying from preventable illness as a result of poor healthcare infrastructure. With MobiHealth’s technology and intervention, she stated that there would be reduction in hospital congestion by over sixty per cent and also an improvement of diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
“With digital revolution, it’s no longer defensible for people to continue to die when the technology exists to change the dismal narrative,” she said in the interview. “MobiHealth is leveraging the explosive mobile technology adoption across Africa to pioneer an Afrocentric model that can tackle multiple barriers to access and delivery of quality healthcare.”
MobiHealth, in partnership with 9Mobile and MTN, is leveraging Nigeria’s fast-growing mobile technology with more than one hundred-and-sixty million subscribers, forty per cent smart-phone penetration and 3G/4G networks to provide far-reaching telemedicine services to many Nigerians at cost-effective rates.
With the pandemic and the challenges conventional healthcare system poses in curbing it, it has dawned on the global health community and on world leaders that another approach is needed to combat the pandemic, and urgently. Digital medicine or telemedical solutions, which help with social distancing, are becoming popular and are helping the world to manage the pandemic in a way conventional medicine could not have.
Interestingly, however, Dr Funmi Adewara, in the last three years, has been in the forefront of African digital healthcare innovation and leadership. Before the appreciation of telemedicine in these trying times, Adewara has envisaged and put in much work, novelty and leadership into it, to the point that during this pandemic, her telemedical company assisted the UK and Nigeria in its own unique way.
Adewara’s MobiHealth, since its inception in 2017, has metamorphosed into a global digital healthcare company with its international headquarters in the UK. Registered in the UK and in Nigeria, plans are already on the way to incorporate the company in Ghana, Ethiopia, Rwanda and some other Africa countries.
In a December 2019 Nigerian Tribune article titled ‘How Funmi Adewara is changing Nigerian healthcare narrative with telemedicine’, Adewara explained how the MobiHealth technology and its Consult App work.
“The modus operandi of MobiHealth is simple, yet unique. The platform is accessible through mobile phones or the telehealth clinics for those without mobile devices,” she said. “The MobiHealh Consult App is obtainable form iOS and Android stores. It enables a patient to book appointment with a doctor of their choice from over hundred thousand medical experts worldwide.”
In today’s world, technology, innovation and leadership are key to development, and the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that in all ramifications, especially in Adewara’s Nigeria. For years now, women innovativeness and entrepreneurship appeal to her sense of leadership. As someone who believes that innovation and innovation utilisation should be democratic, she has regularly frowned at the way Africa society often marginalised business women.
At the 2020 UK-African Summit, while appreciating the UK government for shinning more lights on the amazing innovative solutions developed by African female entrepreneurs like her, she lamented that most African female entrepreneurs start from the base and are locked in a slow-growth for many years.
However, in spite of these cultural and financial barriers, she stated that African women have been shown to deliver more values both in immediate and in long term. “We hope that young girls and women can find some inspiration through us, to think big and shatter barriers,” she added.
Furthermore, women entrepreneurship and leadership are projects the World Bank and its partners that oversee the SDGs and Her Award take pride in, especially in this global pandemic period.
“Amidst global efforts to seek actions and solutions, women, particularly woman entrepreneurs, play a vital role in both tackling the pandemic and helping achieve the SDGs,” a World Bank representative said as regards the award. “This year’s winners are using their entrepreneurial skills to not only support SDGs through their business leadership, but also to fight back and thrive despite the health crisis.”
Reacting to the award, Adewara noted that being selected among a pool of thousands of innovate women around the world gave her joy and would encourage her to work hard to remove as much barriers to healthcare as possible.
“Our work at MobiHealth International is predicated on your believe that an improved access to healthcare will bring about accelerated development for the people of the world,” she said. “This award is a motivation to do more to see that people who need quality medical attention receive same irrespective of their race, gender, social status or financial standing.”
President Muhammadu Buhari was one of the people that congratulated Adewara on the award. Fortunately for Adewara, the award came in the session when the president, in his National Day broadcast, applauded Nigerian professional home and abroad whom the president ranked among the best in the world.
The president described Adewara’s feat as “an attestation of the stuff Nigerian professional are made of,” while praising her “illustrious work in promoting access to healthcare for the world’s population in line with SDG 3 that seeks to ensure health lives and well-being of all ages.”
While congratulating Funmi Adewara and the other winners of the award, and inviting them as speakers at the virtual award event on September 30 on the margins of the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), Jill Wilkins, Director of Partnership and Practice Group (External and Relations) of the World Bank, noted that “these inspirational women were selected from a pool of 2400 applicants from around the world that competed in the 2020 SDGs and Her competition.”
The other winners of the award include Annisa Hasanah Arsyad (Indonesia), founder of educational board games; Bassma Ali (West Bank and Gaza), founder of G-Gateway; and Kayumba Chiwele (Zambia), founder of PsycHealth. Others include Maliha Khalid (Pakistan), founder of Doctory; Marysela Zamora (Costa Rica), founder of Nosotras Women Connecting; and Melina Taprantzi (Greece), founder of Wise.
The World Bank’s global SDGs and Her award is not the only award Adewara, through her MobiHealth International, has been honoured with in recent times for her phenomenal role in digital healthcare technology, innovation and leadership.
Her other awards worthy of mention are, but not limited to, endorsement of MobiHealth by the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) as one of the few innovative business models that provides inclusive and sustainable products and services in line with the Commission’s goals and objectives of SDGs; finalist for the Innovation in Healthcare Award ‘For advancing healthcare through technology’ awarded by Zenith Global Health; and the African-UK Female Tech Founders 2020 Award.
Dr Funmi Adewara, who is optimistic that in five years MobiHealth would play a vital role in reducing the disease burden of Africa, believes that with her team’s innovative and leadership expertise in digital healthcare technology, “Our impact will be clearly evident,” she said.
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