On the 5th floor of Nigist Tower, situated in Kazanchis, call agents dedicate their days and nights to receiving calls from customers. The 9394-short call number is abuzz, having received over 27,000 calls since the launch of services in September 2021. This is the office of WeCare, one of Ethiopia’s emerging healthcare startups.
WeCare provides a comprehensive range of services on its platform, allowing patients to discover practitioners, book appointments for online consultations or in-clinic visits, and read doctors’ profiles. Appointments can be scheduled for video consultations within the app, through the call center, or for physical examinations at clinics or hospitals.
The startup, which was established with a seed investment of six million birr, was co-founded by Bethel Dereje (M.D.) and Tewodros Mekonnen.
“Wecare is inspired by the official Facebook page I created eight years ago under my name and the connections it made,” said Bethel. The co-founder states that many women called to get advice, even from the Middle East. “This alerted me that the service is in high demand, and I was seriously thinking about how to grow the page’s impact and reach thousands. These thoughts were also instrumentalized simultaneously alongside my co-founder,” added the CEO of WeCare.
Wecare was established under Startups Technologies in 2021 and then evolved into Wecare Integrated Health Network plc in July 2023, having six shareholders.
Patients can use WeCare to browse through 2600 registered professionals waiting to address their healthcare needs. The platform offers around 40 categories, such as internal medicine, mental health, dental health, and prenatal care. Doctors can post their profiles, including information such as work experience, educational background, and consultation rates.
WeCare’s services mainly focus on advising on pre-clinical or post-clinical activities. The startup acquired its license from the Ministry of Health to operate as a digital consulting company.
“In addition, we have obtained licenses from Ethio Telecom and the Addis Ababa Health Bureau for the call center, office practice clinic, and home-based services, all of which are integrated into the digital platform,” Bethel told Shega.
Anudalem Firdie (M.D.), a medical doctor offering services on the platform, emphasizes that various types of consultations can be conducted virtually.
“The accessibility of the platform encourages people to reach out to us. Sometimes, individuals perceive their issues as minor and prefer not to go to the hospital for them. Instead, they choose to seek advice from us. Often, these problems can be easily identified by understanding the patient’s medical history,” Anudalem told Shega.
“At other times, the diagnosis points to a bigger threat, and we urge them to go to the hospital,” Anudalem stated. He adds that another significant way people use WeCare is for a second opinion and follow-up advice after being diagnosed at the hospital.
Patients can upload medical documents into the app and ask the doctor to review them. Doctors can also order over-the-counter drugs via the platform or Telegram bot for the patient. The digital prescription is sent to the patient, who then uses it to buy the medicine at pharmacies.
Virtual consultations with doctors on WeCare cost between 100 and 500 birr, with the doctors setting their rates and WeCare taking a commission. The duration for each session is 20 minutes. After booking, sessions are confirmed when patients pay for the service via telebirr, bank deposits, or Webirr payment gateway.
The platform’s benefits also extend to doctors. WeCare helps doctors earn extra income. Anudalem states that he receives four to five calls per day from patients, with most consultations coming via the call center.
However, not all doctors are readily available on WeCare. Many doctors still have unfinished profiles on WeCare and have not entered their available slots on the app, making it impossible to book them. In addition, though the platform facilitates patients booking physical visits, these visits are arranged externally, and patients may incur additional fees at the hospitals.
Since the launch of WeCare, pediatrics, gynecology, and psychology treatments are the most required services, says Eden Feleke (M.D.), customer care manager at WeCare.
“Information on sexually transmitted diseases is also frequently requested. People often hesitate to discuss these cases publicly, leading them to reach out to us,” added Eden.
WeCare’s call center has conducted over 27,000 consultations. Meanwhile, its app, available for Android and with 40,000 users, has seen 2700 virtual sessions.
Additionally, the startup is eyeing home healthcare services. Such services are currently listed on WeCare but are provided by partners such as Lifeline Addis, another big player in the digital healthcare scene.
A recent study titled “Addis Ababa Startup Ecosystem Report,” published in October 2023, found over 40 health tech startups in Addis Ababa. The report adds that health tech has become more important as people become more conscious of their health, and there is an increasing demand for technology-enabled healthcare services. This growth is also fueled by 46% of ecosystem builders, such as Orbit Health Innovation Hub, providing support for the health tech sector.
In June 2023, WeCare received the Play4Health Health Tech Innovation Challenge award, winning $125,000 from the Novartis Foundation. The grant is meant to support WeCare’s engagement with schoolchildren and educators to increase healthy lifestyle options for children and decrease cardiovascular risk by establishing public-private partnerships with the government.
Tigist Mekonen, CEO of the Ethiopian Medical Association, states that their association collaborates with WeCare in various areas, citing the startup as exemplary for healthcare startups in Ethiopia. She further notes that the association is engaged in policy advocacy with the Ministry of Health and participates in studies to enhance the accessibility of healthcare systems in Ethiopia.