Exclusive Health Altibbi plans healthcare expansion in North Africa and Pakistan By Andy Sambidge September 19, 2022 Unsplash The health technology sector in the Gulf is expected to grow from $500m to $1.2bn over the next two years CEO Jalill Allabadi says latest $44m funding accelerating growthOnline pharmacy platform provides telehealth services in 14 countriesDigital healthcare in MENA projected to reach $2bn in 2024As many 400m people in the Arab world lack basic health services Altibbi, the largest AI-based digital health provider in the Arab world, is looking to expand into North Africa and Pakistan after “turbocharging” growth in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, its CEO has told AGBI. Jalill Allabadi said the proceeds from Altibbi’s latest funding round of $44 million – the largest ever single financing round for a healthcare company in the MENA region – are being used to accelerate growth in the two key markets while also expanding platform services into online pharmacy and diagnostics. He revealed that Altibbi, which has so far raised more than $50 million, will next look to raise more funds to expand further into North Africa and Pakistan. It’s all part of an ambitious plan to establish the first publicly listed digital health unicorn IPO in the GCC over the next few years. A unicorn is a startup company valued at over $1 billion. Digital drugs delivery – the next frontier in healthcare20 MENA innovators to watch The Covid pandemic has accelerated demand for online healthcare services. In 2017, Altibbi was receiving 200,000 unique visitors per day and conducting 100 daily consultations. Fast forward to today and its platform receives one million unique daily visitors and conducts up to 6,000 consultations with 1,500 doctors it can call on across the region. “Since founding Altibbi as a medical content portal in Jordan in 2011, we have grown rapidly to become a digital health platform providing telehealth services in 14 countries and have provided over five million patient consultations over the past four years,” Allabadi said. “With the pandemic highlighting the great opportunities digitalisation can offer healthcare, we have seen a huge leap towards greater acceptance of digital health services in the MENA region.” The health technology sector in the Gulf is expected to grow from $500 million to $1.2 billion over the next two years. This mirrors the global digital health market, which exceeded $142 billion in 2020, and is forecast to grow at over 17 percent annually until 2027. “In Saudi Arabia digital healthcare is playing a vital role in increasing healthcare efficiency and producing better outcomes, unlocking for re-investment as much as $27 billion by 2030 to enhance patient outcomes, according to a recent McKinsey report,” Allabadi said. The country is making important strides in this direction with its Vision 2030 healthcare transformation to improve healthcare efficiency, quality of care, and patient experience. “Our latest fundraise will allow us to establish a fully integrated value-based healthcare offering in accordance with Saudi Vision 2030, which has a strong focus on the development of technologies such as artificial intelligence – a core part of Altibbi’s offering,” Allabadi added. Jalil Allabadi, CEO of Altibbi, says the platform is seeing an increase in patients requiring prescriptions for obesity and anxiety Technology is rapidly transforming the healthcare sector. “Both AI and telehealth aimed at cutting costs and diagnosing illnesses faster and more accurately, and the MENA region especially is in need of this,” the Altibbi boss said. “Via innovative technologies we are able to analyse and interpret large amounts of data to provide more accurate medical insights, and ensure we give patients the very best possible diagnoses and healthcare, and at lower costs.” He added that he expects to see a greater use of AI within the healthcare sector in the MENA region, with several governments welcoming its potential. Saudi Arabia announced AI as a cornerstone of its 2030 Vision, while the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology also announced the development of a system with Alexandria University to detect early signs of diabetic retinopathy, further highlighting the use of artificial intelligence. Altibbi’s goal is to offer an integrated model of healthcare as a journey from content to consultation and diagnosis to treatment and plans to develop online pharmacies and diagnostics are the next important part of this process. Allabadi said: “Online pharmacy makes life easier for the patient, but getting medicines to patients more efficiently isn’t just about convenience. “Patient compliance with drug regimens improves through ease of purchasing and drug delivery, eliminating the risks of patients forgetting to pick up prescriptions. “And our latest research into automatic symptom identification, for example, will play a crucial role in assisting doctors during the diagnosis process in telemedicine. “Physicians spend considerable time on clinical documentation and symptom identification, so technology-assisted diagnosis will have a huge impact for both doctors and patients.” Making the system more efficient is an important part of Altibbi’s ultimate mission to “put accessible, affordable, quality healthcare in the hands of every person in the Arab world”. With the remote healthcare market in the MENA region projected to reach $2 billion in 2024, as many 400 million people in the Arab world lack basic health services, including access to medical information and advice. “Despite recent advances in digital and traditional healthcare over recent years, certain roadblocks still exist in terms of financial barriers, or geographical barriers – with rural communities more susceptible to both, for example – all of which digital healthcare can help to overcome,” explained Allabadi. He added that Altibbi aims to be a key contributor to the growth of the healthcare sector in MENA by continuing to invest in the development of innovative technologies to help doctors provide more precise diagnostics, referrals and prescriptions to more patients across the region. While there is growing demand for telehealth services coming from an increasingly tech-savvy young customer base, concurrently there is a growing elderly population who suffer from illnesses that require pharmaceutical medicine rather than procedures. The platform is also seeing an increase in lifestyle related illnesses including type 2 diabetes, obesity and anxiety that require medical prescriptions. “All of these challenges create demand for greater productivity through efficiency gains that digitalisation can bring – while ensuring the customer experience can be less stressful, more convenient, and more affordable,” said Allabadi. While demand for digital healthcare soared during the Covid pandemic as lockdowns forced people to depend on remote services, he believes the shift is part of a wider digitalisation trend more generally. “Our advanced digital capabilities were able to open up access to healthcare for millions and ease the pressure on national healthcare systems,” he said. Starting with a vision to create a WebMD of the Arab world, Altibbi is now the largest digital health platform in the Arab World, with over two million pages of content and 20 million monthly users. “At Altibbi, we are always looking for ways to improve our existing services and enter into new business areas to continue to offer our users the best experience and expand the reach of our market-leading offering,” added Allabadi.