By Ayenat Mersie

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Nathalie Maikere sat at her dining table, her two children playing video games a few feet away, as a doctor in a lab coat unpacked her medical bag and took her temperature, pulse, and blood pressure.

Maikere is one of over 600 Nairobians getting medical care at home through TIBU Health, a Kenyan startup.

It is a small player in a global movement towards home-based medical care, and its March launch coincided with the coronavirus pandemic that has forced much of the world’s population to stay at home.

“People think that health equals clinic or hospital whenever I’m sick,” said CEO and co-founder Jason Carmichael. “They don’t realize that … often you don’t even need to go to a clinic. Or that it can come to you.”

TIBU also administers COVID-19 tests in people’s homes.

Customers start by requesting medical assistance via a mobile app. They get paired with the closest medical officer or doctor, depending on their complaint. After a triage call, the health professional travels to the patient.

The process from request to deployment takes on average of about 20-30 minutes, said Carmichael.

The key, he added, was the health kit.

“We show up lock, stock and barrel.”

The outsized backpacks contain equipment ranging from blood pressure gauges to kit for testing for diseases to tools that help with the management of illnesses like diabetes.

There are U.S. companies offering comparable services, like Los Angeles-based Heal and New York-based Pager.

But TIBU’s price point – 1,000 Kenyan shillings (under $10) for a consultation – means it is targeting Kenya’s middle class with a view to expanding through Africa, where few such services exist at scale.

One challenge has been to create a digital system that safely stores patients’ health records.

Although there is a growing push for digitising health records in Kenya, much of the information is still on paper only, raising the risk of inefficiencies and data loss.

“Everything is on the patient’s app, so that now when you go somewhere, and the doctor says, ‘where are your medical records?’ you don’t have to run from place to place,” said Carmichael.

The founders of TIBU, which is funded by venture capital, said interest in the platform had risen quickly, which they ascribed in part to people’s reluctance to go to hospitals for fear that they might catch the coronavirus.

“If we can’t do it now, it’s not going to work!” said Carmichael.

(Editing by Mike Collett-White)