BY TOM JACKSON
Kenyan e-health startup Ilara Health, which provides point of care diagnostic testing to small primary care clinics, has received a US$1.1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve maternal health outcomes in the country.
Ilara Health provides affordable diagnostic equipment to patients and healthcare providers in peri-urban areas and has partnered with more than 120 clinics, enabling access to life-saving point of care diagnostic tools to thousands of patients across Kenya.
The startup’s underlying technology seamlessly integrates these diagnostic tools into easy to manage tablets and mobile phones that require minimal training to operate. Ilara raised a seed funding round in August of last year to help it scale its offering, and has now secured a US$1.1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The grant will be used to develop effective antenatal care (ANC) interventions and tech-based solutions for pregnant women unable to access essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ilara Health, in tandem with the Kisumu Ministry of Health and the Kenya Medical Research Institute, will leverage a network of local primary care facilities, telemedicine, and home-based health worker consultations to ensure safe continuity of life-saving maternal care during the pandemic and beyond.
Awarded in September, the grant is expected to reach approximately 4,000 low income pregnant women in peri-urban Kisumu county, and will address a significant drop in ANC attendance at large health facilities as concerns for possible COVID-19 transmission grow in these hotspots.
Ilara Health and its partners will work to ensure essential ANC is available at small local clinics. The project aims to improve access to diagnostics locally and, through Ilara Health’s technology platform and diagnostic tools, the team will reach pregnant women at their local clinics, individual homes, or remotely – collectively providing safe, COVID-free, high-quality care to both mother and baby.
Additionally, through its partnership with Butterfly Network, the company behind the telemedicine-enabled Butterfly iQ, a separate set of small facilities without in-house sonographers will be linked to imaging specialists so scans that are carried out locally can be read and diagnosed remotely in real time, so patients receive immediate feedback. If successful, this feature will be rolled out across the larger project to improve the availability of ultrasounds across peri-urban areas. The project also aims to drive community awareness on the importance of ANC services and ANC attendance in improving maternal and neonatal health outcomes for longer-term improvement in care.
“We are incredibly excited to receive support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve Kenya’s maternal health outcomes and promote Ilara Health’s core mission of improving access to diagnostics countrywide. This grant underscores the acute need for the continuation of essential ANC services during the COVID-19 pandemic; we hope to see a great reduction in poor maternal and neonatal health outcomes through its implementation in these low-resource peri-urban areas,” said Emilian Popa, chief executive officer (CEO) and co-founder of Ilara Health.