Mobile provider MTN has teamed up with financial services group Sanlam to launch MTN CareConnect, a service that will allow all South Africans to receive basic healthcare assistance from qualified nurses via their mobile phones.
Each call will cost R5 (US$0.74) per minute. The service will offer users a enquiry line for everyday health issues, where they can receive guidance on how to deal with ailments such as fevers, stomach aches and possible poisoning, as well as general children’s health tips for parents, to name a few.
Nursing professionals will be on call 24 hours a daily, to give callers immediate assistance in any of the country’s 11 official languages on poison information, stress management, and medicine and drug databases.
Nurses will also supply general health information and advice on worrying symptoms.
Based on the information received, the nurse might give relevant advice, suggest that the caller visit their nearest medical facility, or forward the call to an emergency service and help the ambulance to get to the patient.
Sanlam Health CEO Grant Newton said that by making its comprehensive health care knowledge and expertise available to the public, the company will help to ensure that citizens are informed about vital health matters - but without having to pay doctor’s fees.
He added that, while callers will primarily be tapping into the knowledge and experience of qualified healthcare personnel, the service will also empower them to deal with basic health issues without having to leave their homes.
“This is a really great service,” said Zinhle Thabethe from Bryanston in Johannesburg's northern suburbs. “I have a baby and will be glad not to drive to a hospital in the middle of the night every time my baby is unwell, because I can call the CareConnect line and get advice on what to do.”
Supporting the public healthcare system
Serame Taukobong, chief marketing officer for MTN SA. said the service would in no way aim to replace any healthcare service.
“We will merely provide alternatives to consumers unsure of the severity of their health query, and hopefully alleviate the unnecessary stress of smaller complaints on an already overloaded healthcare system,” he said.
Patricia Yekelo, a nurse from Pretoria, welcomed the initiative. “The truth is our public healthcare facilities are overburdened and sometimes people come in for really small things that may not have needed the person to come into the hospital or clinic.”
She said the CareConnect facility will ease the burden on the public healthcare system, and save patients the trouble of sitting in long queues or spending money, which they can ill afford, for a private doctor’s consultation, especially for a small complaint.
The advisory line is currently in the pilot phase, and will roll out around the country in stages. CareConnect will start operating in the Daveyton and Etwatwa townships, east of Johannesburg. The service will then spread to the rest of the country towards the end of the year.
Initially callers will have access to the nurses’ service, followed soon after by a maternity as well as a high blood pressure programme, and an electronic screening facility.
In future, said MTN, CareConnect may also offer advice to patients on diseases such as HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, diabetes and malaria.