24 March 2014


"TB is curable, but current efforts to find, treat, and cure everyone who gets ill with the disease are not sufficient." ~World Health Organization (WHO)

About 3million people infected with TB are currently being missed by health systems around the world. This in turn have dented global efforts made by the WHO and the Stop TB partnership, to #StopTB in our lifetime.

"Why is this so?" You ask, considering how 'smart' the world around us has become; smart phones, smart cars, smart houses; perhaps we need a 'smarter' medical system? This is where my guest, Joshua, comes into the picture.

Alongside co-founder Johnson Okorie, the duo came up with an ingenious idea to 'smarten' up the health system around them, and the idea? Health Mobile; a mobile phone application available on the Andriod and BB10 OS platform, which contains a huge database of relevant health information in a very easy to access format. In other words, they've brought health care information to our finger tips, leveraging on the recent advances in mobile phone technology.

We talked about his experience from being a panelist at social media week, Lagos; the inspiration behind Health mobile, and his partnership with Johnson; and he shared some ideas on how we can end TB in our lifetime. Here's my stroll with Josh;

Ebenezar: Hello Josh, thank you so much for making out time from your busy schedule to have this stroll with me

Joshua: Hi Ebenezar, the pleasure is mine

Ebenezar: Now, first question I'm dying to ask you before we get on with the interview, what was Social Media week Lagos like? You were one of the panelists alongside Femi Oke, Jennifer Ehidiamen, just to name a few...what did you talk about?

Joshua posing alongside other panelists at Social Media Week Lagos
Joshua: As you would expect, it was a great pleasure. I compare Social Media Week to the Super Bowl where you don’t get the best ever game on that night, but the hours spent meeting new people and trading valuable ideas are priceless. To be a panelist was an even better feeling, and I am humbled by it.

Ebenezar: That's cool, On the Health Mobile App, from what I gathered you're studying Electrical & Electronics engineering, so how come you got interested in making something medically related? Perhaps you wish to pursue medicine later in your career?

Joshua: No. Before I chose Engineering in 2009, Medicine was a strong option.

Ebenezar: Okay? interesting...

Joshua: Yeah, where I grew up at the University of Calabar, I am surrounded by a throng of academic professors, doctors, interns and students all in medicine. It is an economy of knowledge that I knew I could leverage on to build technology solutions.

Ebenezar: You didn't do this alone, your partner in crime, and Co-founder of Health Mobile is, Johnson Okorie. How did you guys meet? And what is working with him like?

Joshua: Well, we met on our very first day on campus in 2010 and have been ‘digital’ friends since – geeks working individually to get better at use of technology. Working with him is an amazing experience – I’m always updated, and the craziest ideas are always welcome.

Ebenezar: Johnson is also a student of Federal University of Technology Owerri, just like you, and I'll like to know if your university has anything to do with this invention; maybe a lecturer inspired you guys or something like that?

Joshua: I would say coming to University gives each of us the opportunity to meet business partners, and creates an environment where we can build trust over time. Besides that, I would say that we were let down by lack of basic infrastructure for proper Engineering lessons when we came in – this more than anything else inspires us to relentlessly pursue self-improvement in order to catch up with our better-served mates around the world.

Ebenezar: What do you think about the creativity culture in Nigerian tertiary institutions?

Joshua: There are no rewards to foster creativity. Much like in Nigeria as a whole, administrators talk the talk but do not get their hands dirty. There has to be a system – one that awards grade points for certain creative extra-curricular ventures. What we have is a rigid academically-loaded calendar that only puts students who dare to venture beyond obsolete course curriculums, at risk of dropping in performance.

At a point though, students do not care anymore, and that’s when you begin to see them breakout and start expressing their abilities.

Ebenezar: (hahah) But it seems that creativity culture is really present in your family because, last year, on international Youth day I strolled with your sister Grace who is doing a great job as a social entrepreneur. And I'm just thinking, do you owe what you are today to your parents? How supportive has your family being?

Joshua: We lost Dad at a tender age,...

Ebenezar: Oh no, I'm really sorry about that...

Joshua: Yeah, thanks, but Mum has been very supportive. How else does creativity thrive? Ours is a family with a strong academic and learning culture and decent values. Forward thinking parents will expose their kids early enough to what they need to compete with their peers.

Health Mobile Dashboard display
Ebenezar: Now, back to your app. Looking at the recent development in technology, do you think health care apps will replace doctors in the nearest future?

Joshua: Don’t let the doctors hear you say that (Hahaha). 

Ebenezar: (hahaha) No bro, I'm just asking...

Joshua: While technology over time has replaced humans at toll gates, traffic posts and in many other fields, doctors are a delicate bunch to try and replace. Every technology has geeks that use and make it better and practitioners are the geeks for healthcare applications. What we can do is make healthcare delivery possible without the physical presence of a doctor through tools such as tele-medcine, but that is as far as it goes. Health apps focus on getting physicians smarter and easing the burden on the healthcare system/infrastructure.

Ebenezar: So I guess that's good news for Doctors, their profession will never be lost...

Joshua: Yeah, never, no matter how much we try. 

Ebenezar: Okay, today is World TB day, and the aim is to foster global support on the goal to stop TB in our lifetime. Is this goal achievable? Can we really stop TB?

Joshua: Presently only HIV that causes AIDS kills more people than TB globally and a lot of these deaths are unnecessary. You have to look at what causes TB in the first place, why people die from the disease and how far technology has come. A healthy body can defend itself against the bacteria (mycobacterium tuberculosis) if all parts of the immune system work together. Researchers from the Imperial College London and Stanford University currently are working on a new way to manipulate the immune system to aid its ability to fight off TB. This is a real prospect. 

(Image Credit: stoptb.org)

Ebenezar: Wow, that's cool.

Joshua: There is also a mobile technology available now from St George’s University in London that can detect possible fatal TB drug resistance in less than 15 minutes - ten times faster than a trained practitioner can. Then, we need to develop strategies for reaching people in hard-to-reach groups who live outside the healthcare systems. They (homeless people and the marginalized) are the ones who often die from undiagnosed cases. Bar code systems that ensure that donor drugs get to the last patient on a chain, and that this chains even exist, are also available.

Ebenezar: This is really good news you know?

Joshua: Yeah, finally, in places like Tanzania, a start-up is trains rats to sniff out tuberculosis in sputum – faster than any doctor can. Globally, there is a concerted effort, and as technology gets more adopted over the years, it is obvious that we can stop TB in our lifetime.
Ebenezar: Great, so what projects are you currently working on?

Joshua: We are working on a robust healthcare framework for practitioners, as well as three to four small healthcare apps to handle daily needs. They will be rolled out one by one as the year progress, and sooner than you expect. Stay tuned. 

Ebenezar: You talk so much about 'purpose' on social media, is that what drives you as a human being?

Joshua: It is my mantra. The rising of the sun each day is enough excuse for me to go out and be the best I can for that day.

Ebenezar: Thank you so much for your time Josh, I really had fun on this stroll. I wish you success on all your projects

Joshua: Thank you Ebenezar. I wish you the best too.

For more about Joshua, you can follow him on twitter @joshuaiheji

The slogan for today's observance is, "Reach the 3 million." How can we reach them? I strongly believe TB can be stopped, but we need to device more efficient methods to reach the people who are 'out of reach' with the cure.

The World Health Organization and the STOP TB partnership are doing a great job to eradicate TB in our lifetime, but we also need to join them in the movement. Sensitizing infected people in rural areas, and creating awareness about prevention methods will go a long way to help this cause.

Once upon a time, polio was getting the world crippled, but today we have countries like India recording zero polio cases. We can stop TB in this generation, If we act now. Till my next stroll, Jesus Loves you.

                                                                                                                 Ebenezar Wikina

"...And with only a word he forced out the evil spirits and healed everyone who was sick." (Matthew 8v16B, Contemporary English Version)


A Stroll with Lizzy Attree (For World AIDS day)

  A Stroll with Grace Ihejiamaizu (For International Youth Day)


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