Reliefwatch is an information management system for organisations and government ministries working to support health systems in the developing world. Through using the web and basic mobile technology to track medical inventory and health information, Reliefwatch equips users with real-time supply chain management, disease tracking and health survey data. The college startup CEO, Daniel Yu, told KITE Invest about the birth of Reliefwatch, the company’s goals and aspirations, and the impressive impact this mHealth, and all around do-gooder startup, is doing around the world.
KITE Invest: What was the catalyst behind this altruistic Startup and the road to Reliefwatch’s 2014 launch? What is the extent of the team’s experience in this field?
Daniel Yu: I was studying abroad in Egypt when I went to a local health clinic. There, I saw a shelf of expired medicine. When I asked the health clinic manager about it, he told him that expired medicine was the least of his worries. He was far more concerned about the medication that was completely out of stock. When desperate people came in looking for relief, there was nothing the manager could do about it.
My background is in web development, and my first thought was if I could build something to solve this issue. The solution was quickly apparent. I found that more than 90 percent of people in the developing world own a mobile phone. So rather than implementing new infrastructure, Reliefwatch focuses on existing technology: the mobile phone, whether it’s a smartphone or a feature phone.
Combined, the team has over a decade of international development experience, particularly in health. Reliefwatch’s infrastructure is built and maintained by developers experienced in the creation and deployment of enterprise-level inventory management systems.
KITE: Please describe from start to finish of how Reliefwatch enables and ‘provides’ health supplies.
DY: Health clinics in developing countries typically do not have the technology, such as Internet access and barcode scanners, to track inventory and report incidences of disease to health ministries. In fact, most do not even have a reliable, systematic method of reporting needs to supplying warehouses. This problem is exacerbated when clinics and health centers are understaffed and workers simply do not have time to keep track of inventory. As a result, inventories are poorly managed, leading to stockouts and expired medications. According to the WHO, 40% of health clinics in the developing world experience stockouts at any given time.
Reliefwatch is an information management platform targeted at organizations and government agencies operating health clinics in developing countries. Reliefwatch provides a system for health clinics to update inventory, as well as report cases of disease via automated voice calls on basic mobile phones. The voice calls become digitized records that are stored in a cloud database. From there, managers can easily and effectively monitor supplies and conditions across multiple clinics and warehouses, make informed estimates for new supply shipments, and discover patterns in the spread of disease.
KITE: Reliefwatch launched its pilot program in May 2014 with Global Brigades in 42 clinics across Panama, Honduras and Nicaragua. Since Reliefwatch’s launch what has the company’s business trajectory been like?
DY: Since Reliefwatch launched with Global Brigades, we have digitized over 14 million units of inventory, decreased medical wastage by 90%, and saved time spent tracking by 70%. Reliefwatch had signed with Heart to Heart International to track the spread of Ebola in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak.
KITE: What is the extent of Reliefwatch’s partnerships like, with who, and possible future collaborators?
DY: Currently, we are focusing on health organizations that have on-the-ground operations in developing countries. We are talking with many larger NGOs such as RTI International, Unilever, and Clinton Health Access Initiative to expand our technology.
KITE: What are Reliefwatch’s goals for 2015? Long-term goals?
DY: By the end of 2015, we hope to partner with an additional 10 organizations to use our technology in the health industry. Long-term, we want to be able to expand into other industries, such as education, agriculture, and pharmaceuticals.
KITE: Reliefwatch relies entirely on the existing infrastructure of basic mobile phones, allowing for Reliefwatch’s services to be configured in over 190 countries. The use of the mobile phone is so basic that it is almost a nuanced way of ensuring health supplies are readily available. To this point, who is Reliefwatch’s competition? What are Reliefwatch’s competitive advantages?
DY: There are a few other organizations that are using mobile health (called mHealth). The current mHealth market across the developing world largely consists of Internet-based applications dealing with teleconsultation, appointment scheduling, and health worker training. There have also been new efforts to track diseases through SMS messaging, however the market for using feature phone technology as a medium for medical inventory systems remains relatively untapped.
While Reliefwatch does have SMS capabilities, our software focuses on voice calling. Rather than texting questions and answers back and forth, our technology uses automated voice calls and the number keypad to increase usability. And unlike other technologies, ours requires no new hardware, downloads, or installations, meaning it can be set up within minutes for any number of clinics and warehouses.
KITE: With the possibility of Reliefwatch’s services being available in over 190 countries, how does the company take into account the legal frameworks and policies that vary from country to country?
DY: Because Reliefwatch partners with established international NGOs rather than working in a country by ourselves, we can rely on our partners to work with the varying legalities and policies.
KITE: Lastly, is Reliefwatch looking for funding? If so, why would Reliefwatch be a good investment?
DY: Reliefwatch is currently looking for funding for a seed round. We hope to use the money to grow our team and hire more talent in order to have the most amount of impact in the developing world healthcare. Reliefwatch is a good investment because of our potential impact. We are capable of doing a lot of good for the industry, and we have the team that can lead us to success.
As CEO, I am in the unique position of not only understanding the needs of developing a product, but also the business needs to make Reliefwatch successful. Our business team is lead by Josh Middleman, who has years of experience in international development, particularly in health. CTO David Jaress brings experience building enterprise level inventory management systems and CPO Stelios Constantinides brings years of product consulting.