Strengthening the MENA region’s healthcare industry in the heart of Abu Dhabi

24 May, 2021

With the vision of strengthening the delivery of healthcare services through the integration of technology solutions in the MENA region, we caught up with Louiza Chitour, HealthTech Program Manager at Plug and Play Abu Dhabi - the largest global innovation platform, to talk about their recent partnership with the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi (DOH), on the establishment of a healthcare startup accelerator “Health Plug and Play MENA” at the heart of Abu Dhabi’s global tech ecosystem, Hub71.

Through your partnership with the Department of Health - Abu Dhabi, where do you think digital healthcare transformation has the greatest opportunity?

We believe the potential of digital health to be 3-fold: increasing access to healthcare services, accelerating innovation for the diagnosis and treatment of various diseases, and finally, enabling personalized medicine.

Particularly in a region like the GCC or the larger MENA area, innovation can enable more patients to access healthcare services, even if they are based in remote areas. It can also allow health authorities to plan more effectively and reduce unnecessary costs and waste, by leveraging the power of data to identify patients most at risk and address their needs earlier.

Technology alone will not be able to deliver on its potential if there are no parallel efforts to get the buy-in from the medical community. By showing healthcare providers the value of these tech solutions, and how they can “augment” and “complement” the care services they provide their patients with, more and more medical staff will adopt and embrace tech solutions, fully integrating them into the patient journey.

What type of startups are in the second cohort of the Abu Dhabi HealthTech Accelerator Program and what benefits will they gain?

In this second cohort, along with our health partners, we looked at healthcare in a post-pandemic context and focused on solutions that will better equip us to face future adverse healthcare situations - with technologies ranging from “Masks 2.0” like Swoxid, to epidemiological surveillance software, leveraging AI to provide accurate projections of infection and transmission rates (Survenus).

Secondly, as part of the Emirati genome project spearheaded by the DOH and G42 that is aimed at making personalized medicine a reality in the UAE, we selected the best-in-class startups for digital twin technologies, such as Predictiv direct-to-consumer genetic testing solutions from Invitae, as well as technologies that allow early detection and/or treatment of cancer (Vivan Therapeutics) and early onset of diabetes. 

Finally, we are bringing additional solutions to digitize chronic disease management for a range of conditions from diabetes to cardiovascular diseases with apps like Perx Health or Sidekick Health, that allow patients to better monitor their disease and enable their physicians to follow-up on their care plan between visits. 

These types of tech solutions will allow payers to optimize their care plans, engage more with their members to take ownership of their health, and adopt a healthier lifestyle by leveraging the power of social media and personalized follow-ups.

Tell us more about your “Alliance to Fight COVID-19” accelerator program and its achievements in the fight against COVID-19?

The "Alliance to Fight COVID-19" program was quite an adventure! We were fortunate enough to be agile and adapt the initial accelerator program to the immediate challenges the COVID-19 pandemic was posing on the healthcare industry. 

Our ventures team worked around the clock to source solutions that were not only suitable to alleviate the burden off of the shoulders of frontline workers, but also solutions that could be quickly deployed remotely and abide by the local data privacy laws and regulations.

We also had the opportunity to work closely with eight exceptional startups from the UAE, Australia, Poland and the United States, providing them with a better understanding of the local healthcare landscape, offering them the tools they need to secure collaboration opportunities with key health stakeholders, and introducing them to investors to help them in their funding journey throughout the duration of the program.

As a result, we are incredibly proud to have facilitated more than 45 of the meetings between the startups and the corporate partners to explore business opportunities. Out of these encounters, 25 discussions matured into POC/pilot discussions, and 10 tangible business opportunities emerged. One of the most notable ones, was the collaboration between Etihad Airways and Medicus AI, that took around four to six weeks to materialize from the first pitch Medicus AI presented on April 20. The implementation of their technology allowed more than 22,000 passengers to use their COVID-19 self-assessment tool and enjoy peace of mind when traveling, during the height of the pandemic.

How has Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) and Hub71 helped Plug and Play Abu Dhabi expand its value proposition for startups seeking new opportunities in the UAE?

We are incredibly proud and privileged to be partnering with ADIO since the start of 2021 to further strengthen the marketplace for exceptional tech startup talent to test, develop, and scale their solutions and businesses here in Abu Dhabi.

Their strategic support has been invaluable in developing our existing local open innovation platforms and accelerator programs in regional HealthTech and FinTech verticals. ADIO and Hub71 are agile key connecting agents for international corporations scaling into Abu Dhabi, we are constantly finding new projects to collaborate on and areas of experience to share and learn from, together.

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