As a Physician Assistant in clinical practice, Alexander Holdbrook Quaisie was shocked by the number of young people coming to seek care for sexually transmitted infections (STI’s). Due to cultural opposition to premarital sex, and the taboo around the topic of sex and sexual health in general, he found that many young adults were still lacking basic information on the topic – often staying silent or turning to an equally uninformed friend to provide advice. When people did enter the clinic willing to be tested, it was likely they had been delaying care for some time.
Frustrated from watching patients deal with preventable infections, Alex saw the clear need for safe, high-quality, judgement-free sexual health services. To solve this problem, he founded Verifie Health Ltd. in June 2017 , a for-profit social impact startup focused on reducing the rates of HIV and STI infections on the African continent.
Meeting the Needs of an Emerging Adult Population
Alex’s decision to invest his time, savings, and energy in a startup aimed at young adults wasn’t just filling a clear health need – it was a good business decision.
By 2030, it is expected that 85% of the world’s population will be living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), and in Ghana approximately 40% of that population is under the age of 15. As these young people continue into adulthood and become sexually active, a need for concierge services aimed at enabling educational conversations and providing specialized, stigma-free care will continuously be on the rise.
These needs are echoed in Sustainable Development Goal #3 of the United Nations: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. While the impact of Verifie’s work stretches across the call for health and well-being, it most directly impacts SDG 3.3, which calls for an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and a significant reduction in cases of Hepatitis by 2030.
Creating an Enabling Environment for Health Startup Success
That’s why Impact Hub Basel has come together with Impact Hubs Accra and Dakar, as well as the African Health Innovation Centre, to launch the Lafiya Innovators – a startup support program funded by Fondation Botnar and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. The program supports ambitious entrepreneurs throughout the venture lifecycle, from determining a basic business model to completing the due diligence process necessary for fundraising.
With Impact Hub Accra and the African Health Innovation Centre having focused on development of the health startup ecosystem in Ghana for almost four years, the Accra location of Lafiya Innovators was designated as the Growth Track aimed at supporting established businesses in preparing to raise their first $100,000 USD in investment capital. Working with investment readiness partner Growth Mosaic, the Growth Track helps enrolled startups continue current growth, expand to new markets, and prepare for investment through an established due diligence preparation process.
Leveraging Lafiya for Improved Sexual Health
Since its launch in 2018, Verifie has grown to a team of five, including four young clinicians (two of which are medical doctors) and one financial director. The team works in close collaboration with corporate, development, and NGO partners – along with a rotating team of volunteers – to bring personalized, stigma-free care to patients in their home, at an approved clinic, or at large-scale conferences and events. For screenings held during public activities, special privacy booths are utilized to ensure confidentiality during testing, results, and counseling period. In addition, Verifie offers an innovative mobile application, helping patients connect with providers, track their test results, and maintain a countdown clock toward their next annual exam.
To date, over 2,000 patients have been screened and those in need of medical support have been offered a pathway to a trained practitioner ready to work with them openly and honestly on a treatment plan. Verifie joined the Lafiya Innovators program to leverage the business and health expertise available from local and international efforts – utilizing the business bootcamps offered, the great networking connections, and the opportunity to engage the Swiss health innovation ecosystem to help boost their next phase of growth. By working in close collaboration with facilitators on-the-ground and applying the investment expertise of groups like Growth Mosaic, Verifie plans to scale their work significantly in the coming year.
The Journey to Switzerland
As Alex joins other Lafiya entrepreneurs in Basel and Geneva, Switzerland this March, he hopes his time exploring the country as part of Lafiya’s “Swiss Immersion Week” will help him identify best practices, build potential partnerships, connect with other African startups working within Switzerland, learn more about long-term training opportunities for Ghanaian clinicians, and potentially find opportunities to improve the technology side of their business, including mobile application and software development. His desire for partnership and growth extends beyond the technical aspect of screening, into key operational issues such as data protection and confidentiality.
“But now, I realize that people living with HIV and other STIs are just like me, and I’m also equally at risk.” – Alexander Holdbrook Quaisie, Founder, Verifie Health Ltd.
Two years into the Verifie journey, Alex has realized that even his perceptions of HIV – who could get it, what it could look like, and where it could appear – were often marred by the patient caricatures that graced educational posters in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, intended to scare people into good behavior. Instead, we know that that many young people dealing with sexually transmitted infections look just like you or I – and, with early detection, appropriate treatment, and consistent care, they can live long and healthy lives.
Emily Sheldon, AHIC