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Harnessing AI for Healthcare in Rwanda


Hoffmann Institute

Harnessing AI for Healthcare in Rwanda

Harnessing AI for Healthcare in Rwanda

On 8 June 2021, the INSEAD Emerging Markets Alumni Interest Group, Healthcare Alumni Club, and the NAA Singapore showcased the scalability and sustainability of digital healthcare to serve emerging markets.

Innovation is sweeping the globe at breakneck speed, and emerging markets are where tremendous growth and opportunity reside for the present and the future. The online event ‘Innnovation at the Base of the Pyramid: Babylon Health in Rwanda,’ co-organized by the INSEAD Emerging Markets Alumni Club, delved into the digitization of Rwanda’s healthcare system through the successful adaptation of a mature market solution by Babylon Health from the UK to the Rwandan context.

Speakers Dr Mobasher Butt (Babylon Health) and Noella Bigirimana (Rwanda Biomedical Centre) discussed the forces and drivers that shaped the launch of Babylon’s Rwanda-focused subsidiary – Babyl, a digital healthcare service supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Rwanda, represented a unique opportunity for UK-based digital health group, Babylon Health. “A big part of our story has been demonstrating to investors that our model can work everywhere, including emerging markets,” said Dr Butt. In this context, Bigirimana noted that Rwanda has emerged “as an innovation and proof-of concept hub in Africa that works closely with the startup community.”

Transforming Rwanda’s healthcare landscape

Launched in 2016, Babyl, an innovative digital healthcare service that provides patients with access to nurse and doctor consults, prescriptions, and lab tests through mobile phones, was fully localized to the Rwandan context. “Our approach to localization includes epidemiology, language, care pathways and culture,” emphasized Dr Butt.

In the context of low smartphone penetration in Rwanda, Babyl was tailored to basic mobile phones (voice calls and text messages), and is now including artificial-intelligence (AI) based triaging in call centers and public health centers. The integration of AI into the care pathway reduced the consult time, reduced demand on healthcare centers and improved quality of care.

Over 2 million users across Rwanda have registered with Babyl, which handles 4,200 daily consultations on average. Based on initial data, the platform has benefited patients across gender, age, and socio-economic groups in Rwanda. Additionally, the platform also played a key role in facilitating home-based monitoring and care as part of the COVID-19 response in Rwanda. Indeed, in a testament to its impact, Babyl has inked a 10-year partnership with the Rwandan government to grant all citizens over the age of 12 free access to digital services.

Lessons learned

Dr Butt attributes the success of this initiative to several critical factors that can guide other businesses in emerging markets.

  • Integrating the service with existing healthcare infrastructure and pyramid of care
  • Engaging early and often with government stakeholders, community leaders and physicians, which has facilitated a policy environment to support this type of innovation
  • Thoughtful localization (basic mobile phones, care pathways, brand name)
  • Undertanding the needs of the local population, such as integrating with mobile money to make co-payments which has slashed the time taken to receive healthcare

With the increased investment in for-profit businesses that reach customers at the base of the pyramid in emerging markets, for-profit enterprise such as Babylon Health, that reach these customers, are an exciting evolution, as the scalability and sustainability of these businesses have significant promise for long-term development,, while also driving the UN sustainable development goals.


The Hoffmann Institute is proud to support INSEAD’s Africa Initiative. Find out more about it here.

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