We’re in Douala, at the Café de France, a wonderful location in the city’s Akwa district. Alain Nteff, co-founder of Gifted Mom, is just back from Paris where he had been invited to pitch his project at Vivatech. For those who don’t know, VivaTech is a global annual event for startups and business leaders to celebrate Innovation.
The event provides an ideal opportunity to encounter exceptional innovations, the startups and major groups who are shaping tomorrow’s world, conferences on tech matters, practical workshops and new experiences to enjoy amongst friends or with your family! This year, for the fourth edition of the fair, marked by a trend for positive innovation (“tech for good”), 124,000 visitors, almost 9,000 startups and 450 leading figures from around the world such as Jack Ma, Executive Chair of Alibaba Group, Young Sohn, President of Samsung, and Bernard Arnault, Chairman and Chief Executive of LVMH, attended the event.
Also at the event was Alain Nteff, a brilliant entrepreneur I’ve been following for the last five years. He is inconspicuous, humble, brilliant and above all very pragmatic. In 2015, he caused a sensation at the WEF in Davos, where he was the youngest participant at just 23 years old. Four years later, here I am at the same table as him drinking a fruit juice.
Alain Nteff was born in 1992 in Bamenda, northwest Cameroon, where he grew up. In 2009, he got a maths and sciences baccalaureate from Sacré Cœur secondary school in Mankon. During his childhood, Alain wanted to be a doctor in order to change people’s lives, but he realised that technology could enable him to do more. Having made this decision, he went off to university in the capital, Yaoundé, where he obtained a degree in computer systems and networks and a diploma in telecommunications engineering in 2012.
A year later, in November 2013, he launched Gifted Mom, accompanied by Dr. Conrad Tankou. It was the first digital platform for pregnant women and newborn babies in rural areas of Cameroon and other African countries. Gifted Mom reminds pregnant women and new mothers of vaccination dates and appointments during and after pregnancy. An algorithm also allows customised messages to be sent, notably depending on the infant’s age.
It can never be stressed enough: the digital revolution is also taking place in Sub-Saharan Africa, where mobile phone coverage is enjoyed by 90% of the population according to the World Bank and the number of Internet users has now reached 224 million. NTIC (New Information and Communication Technologies) make it possible to provide a response, at least a partial one, to the three main health challenges in Africa: promoting health insurance, overcoming the shortage of health personnel and improving the quality and coverage of general health-related infrastructures.
The French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) has calculated that, cumulatively, the portion of GDP that goes on healthcare in Africa is less than 5%, and when you know that the continent’s population will double by 2050, we have to start asking questions.
How does it work?
If you are pregnant or a mother, you send “MOM” to 8006 to be called back in an emergency, or “MOM Subscribe” to subscribe to the service and receive a weekly call or message on your mobile during your pregnancy. The service costs 100 CFA francs (0.15 euros), which is levied once when the first message is sent. At the other end of the line are people who speak French, English, Pidgin and other local dialects.
Gifted Mom also has chatbots on its Facebook page, for example, that take the form of online support and a mobile app. What I also find appealing is the service offer the platform has, such as the ability to book an appointment with a specialist, find a laboratory or choose your insurance.
For example, if you live in Cameroon and have a question for a doctor, you call 8566, and if you’re in Nigeria the number is 30812. Many people choose to treat themselves at home and take unregulated medicine just because they’re worried about the cost of a medical service. The SMS helps alleviate people’s concerns about this and about being judged (bad mother, infertile woman, etc.)
I wanted some figures about Gifted Mom, as they often say more. “Gifted Mom currently has 170,000 users, 56 hospitals and partner clinics, and 5,000 interactions a week. Most of these women are from Cameroon, Mali and Nigeria”, Alain Nteff explains.
You might think that he is the symbol of Cameroonian success, but when you talk with him you realise that there is still a long way to go to meet the target he has set himself of creating a world where maternal and infant mortality no longer exist.
What can be done to help him and his team meet that target?
Firstly, national governments have a role to play: they need to provide an environment where every African inhabitant can get healthcare and access education. And, like any “social enterprise”, the lack of long-term financing is a continual problem.
In the meantime, Gifted Mom can count on its partners, who are listed on its website, and focus on its mission: healthcare for all.