July 8, 2014
A BC Entrepreneur Wants To Transform Public Health Knowledge in Africa Via Mobile Phones

Mobile phone penetration in Africa is over 80% and is expanding quickly, according to a December 2013 report by TA Telecom. Boston College senior Loic Assobmo is planning to use mobile phones to give Africans access to healthcare information.

Assobmo lived in a rural village in Cameroon until his mother suffered a stroke when he was six years old. It took two days to raise enough money to travel to a hospital, and in the meantime neighbors couldn’t figure out what had happened to Mrs. Assobmo. When his family made it to the hospital, Assobmo says it was overcrowded and inefficient. Realizing they needed better quality healthcare, the Assombos moved to the U.S. 

“I’ve always been bothered that my whole family had to leave everything behind just so my mom could get appropriate healthcare,” says Assobmo. 

Last July, the biology major and pre-med student decided to bring awareness to African healthcare issues, and so his nonprofit, the Global Enterprise for Medical Advancement (GEMA), was born. 

“I launched GEMA because I realized not everyone is fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel across the world for treatment,” he says. 

One of Assobmo’s initiatives under GEMA is to develop an app for mobile phones so people living in remote areas can appropriately care for the sick during the time it takes to get to a hospital. The app will contain a mini database of symptoms and treatment information for the top five illnesses affecting the continent: strokes, HIV, Ebola, malaria, pneumonia. Assobmo hopes the app will enable people to properly diagnose illnesses and to use preventative care. He says with access to this information, people can also better communicate with doctors to describe what has happened to a patient. 

Assobmo’s nonprofit work has picked up within the last few months. He traveled to Cameroon on his spring break in March to speak with farmers and other locals in rural areas. He showed them a prototype of the app and discussed its benefits. 

“Something like this wouldn’t be necessary if people living there had access to the internet,” says Assobmo. “The mobile phone is the best way to reach them. Some farmers even have multiple phones.” 

He also spoke with doctors in district hospitals in Dschang, Douala, and Yaounde, accompanied by his grandfather who still lives in Cameroon. Assobmo explains by speaking firsthand with doctors, he can provide information on the app that matches up with the treatment to follow in hospitals. 

In April, Assobmo won the first place prize of $2,500 in the Boston College Venture Competition’s SEED competition for GEMA. His winnings are helping to continue build and improve the app. 

This May, Assobmo participated in Boston College TechTrek Ghana, a week long course examining trends in technology in the country’s emerging markets. He said with all of the tech startups coming from Ghana, he wanted to see how they were leveraging mobile technology to solve continental issues. In Ghana, Assobmo partnered with PollAfrique, a startup that enables companies to conduct paid surveys to Africans via SMS. He polled rural Africans, asking various questions about his app and if it would prove to be useful. 

“People were very open to the solutions that I was proposing based on the survey,” says Assobmo.

Assobmo hopes for the app to roll out sometime next year.

Maddie Bilis is a student at Emerson College and a VentureFizz Contributor. Follow her on Twitter @MadBillzz.