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The State of Digital Healthcare in Bangladesh 2021

Over the past years, we have seen an influx of digital healthcare services in Bangladesh offering wide-ranging services from online doctor consultation to prescription drug delivery to at-home diagnostics solutions. Two forces are shaping the future of healthcare in Bangladesh — smartphone and internet penetration and growing trust in technology’s ability to offer quality solutions. 

According to the Lightcastle Partners Bangladesh Business Confidence Index, healthcare is one of the most promising sectors as the country strives for Digital Bangladesh 2020. The sector ranks third among the country's most favored investment segments, with 67 percent of investors having a preference for it. The proliferation of Technology has enabled players within the industry, empowering healthcare professionals and recipients of the services across all walks of the community. 

Over the last decade, we have seen the rise of a new generation of healthcare providers using technology in both delivering healthcare and improving quality and access to healthcare. We have seen companies working in telemedicine, appointment management, at-home healthcare solutions, online pharmacy, preventative healthcare, maternity health, mental health, and emergency response, etc. 

Bangladesh has 165 million mobile connections as of March 2020 (BRTC, 2020). That's nearly 100 percent penetration when compared to population numbers. It’s accurate to state that practically everyone now has access to a cell phone. The number of internet users is increasing at a healthy ten percent every year. Among 103 million internet subscribers, 95 million of them use mobile internet. 

These trends will likely continue for the next 5 years as local manufacturing of smartphones continues to drive down prices, mobile data gets cheaper and digital literacy continues to grow. In other words, it is fair to expect increased usage of health-tech services.  

Digital Healthcare in Bangladesh
Amarlab provides at-home healthcare services in Bangladesh

Two forces and major players in the digital healthcare

Over the past years, we have seen an influx of digital healthcare startups offering wide-ranging services from online doctor consultation to prescription drug delivery to at-home diagnostics solutions. As mentioned earlier, two forces are shaping the future of healthcare — smartphone and internet penetration and growing trust in technology’s ability to offer quality solutions. 

Here are some of the most prominent digital healthcare players in Bangladesh.  

Name of the companyFounding yearServices Latest Investment
Arogga2020Digital pharmacy offering medications and over-the-counter items, like vitamins, diet/fitness supplements, sexual health, and fem care products, etcSecured USD 200K as investment from Dubai-based investment company Falcon Network
BanglaMeds2017Provides home delivery of prescription and OTC drugs, diabetic kits and accessories, hygiene products, surgical items, etc. N/A
CMED2017AI-driven cloud-based preventive healthcare service provider that gives instant results without the need of visiting the doctor frequently.Secured an undisclosed investment from SeedStars World in 2018
Praava Health2018A brick-and-click healthcare venture providing e-pharmacy, virtual consultations, diagnostic services $10.6 million raised in total funding
Olwel2017Offers doctor consultation at home, video call service, lab testing, medicine delivery as well as ambulance service.

Jeeon2015Digitizing and upgrading retail pharmacies, which act as the primary healthcare destination for low-income populationsTotal funding stands at $2.5 million
Pulse2017Provides fully encrypted video consultancy with patients, scheduling of patients' appointments, e-prescriptions, and virtual chambersN/A
Maya2015An anonymous messaging service allows users to directly connect to experts, including doctors and therapistsRaised $2.2 million in seed funding from Anchorless Bangladesh and The Osiris Group
Moner Bondhu2016Making professional counseling accessible and affordableRaised an undisclosed seed round from Startup Bangladesh
AmarLab2017Provides at-home diagnostic test services, online doctor consultationN/A
DoctorKoi2017Offers prescription writing software and online consultancyN/A
Daktar Bondhu2020Offers video consultations, delivers authentic medicine and healthcare products to the patients' doorstepRaised undisclosed pre-seed funding from SBK Tech Ventures
An overview of the prominent digital healthcare startups in Dhaka

Arogga: Controlling counterfeit medicine is an ongoing battle in Bangladesh, where fraudulent or low-quality pharmaceuticals account for 20% of the country's yearly medication sales. The pharmacies are frequently understocked, and someone with a prescription must visit three or four separate pharmacies to obtain all of the medications on that prescription.

To address these concerns, Arogga started as a digital pharmacy in 2020, supplying a complete range of genuine medications to users at a reasonable price. The CEO, Rosina Mazumder, the COO, Fahad Hossain, and the CTO, Shamim Hasan spent two years analyzing the hurdles of Bangladesh's pharmacy sector, including logistical and supply chain issues, as well as the scarcity of legitimate drugs. 

Currently, Arogga also offers over-the-counter items, including vitamins, diet/fitness supplements, sexual health and fem care products,  mother care products, and many more. According to the firm, it has garnered over 70,000 app downloads and has delivered over 30,000 drugs. In May 2021, the health-tech startup secured $200k in pre-seed funding from new angel investors and follow-on investment from Dubai-based Falcon Network.  With the new funding, Arogga plans to offer full-service digital healthcare services such as online doctor appointments, expert consultations, lab testing, and healthcare insurance.

BanglaMeds: BanglaMeds, founded by Gazi Raffan in 2017, is considered one of the first online pharmacies in Bangladesh, providing home delivery of prescription and OTC drugs around the country. It delivers medicines within one to three hours. The delivery may take two days to reach the end customer since it is delivered through courier service.

BanglaMed doesn’t have any minimum order value system. Having a delivery charge of Tk 30, the customer has to order medicines worth or above BDT 200 to avail of the service. The order can be placed through their website, app, social media platform, or over the phone. Apart from medicine, this online store has a wide range of products including diabetic kits and accessories, hygiene products, baby and mother care products, surgical items, etc. 

CMED: Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are the leading cause of death worldwide. In medium and low-income countries, 67% of deaths occur due to non-communicable diseases like Diabetes, Hypertension, etc.

Dr. Khondaker Abdullah Al Mamun, a BioMedical Engineering Scientist, was inspired, by his mother’s chronic diabetic illness, to design a system that could enable the relatives of the patients or the patient himself/herself to monitor the major vitals of a human organism. That is how CME, an AI-driven cloud-based medical platform for preventive healthcare, came into being. The company has received various honors and prizes such as the GP Accelerator, Best Startup 2017 from SeedStars World, and BASIS National ICT Award 2017 in the category of Health & Wellbeing.

The CMED Health Kit comes with a digital weight scale, a height scale, a blood pressure monitor, a blood glucose monitor, a thermometer, and a blood oxygen monitor. These devices are Bluetooth compatible and can be connected with the CMED app on any smartphone or tablet. The devices measure important health vitals like blood pressure, pulse rate, oxygen saturation in blood, blood sugar, weight, height, body mass index, and body temperature. The app then provides instant feedback, showing health data analytics and health risk predictions. As of September 2020, CMED has over 3314K+ registered users and 63 clients.  

Digital Healthcare
Praava Health Center in Banani, Dhaka

Praava Health: Founded in 2018 by Sylvana Quadir Sinha, Praava Health has developed a strong telemedicine operation over the past years and now combines telehealth with its physical clinics. The company describes itself as “a network of Family Health Centers” and has a fully integrated hospital information system that allows the company to better manage the medical records of patients that they can access anytime from anywhere using the Praava mobile app. Praava is a brick-and-click healthcare platform that integrates digital healthcare and in-clinic experiences including virtual consultations, a full range of diagnostic services (laboratory and imaging) as well as procedures and health plans.

Over the past 2 years, it has established six labs for 250+ tests, 40 collection points throughout Dhaka and has built Bangladesh’s first molecular cancer diagnostics lab. More than 50 doctors are working with Praava Health serving some 150,000 patients. It has been the first government-approved private lab to offer COVID-19 testing.  In 2020, it processed 75,000 COVID-19 tests in-house. This year, the company has raised a Series A Prime round that brings its total investment to $10.6 million, reports TechCrunch. With the new investment, Praava plans to open 10 more healthcare centers in Dhaka, and eventually expand outside Dhaka into Chittagong and other major cities. 

Olwel: Olwel, the Finland-based healthcare startup that operates in Dhaka, provides “essential doorstep healthcare service for patients who prefer to receive medical consultation at their home.” Like many classic examples of breakout startup successes, Olwel is an outcome of personal experience - M M Aftab Hossain, co-founder, and Chairman of Olwel had to suffer every time his parents needed to see a doctor. The lack of a proper GP/referral system got singled out as the main issue with Bangladesh’s healthcare system. Many of the problems in our system are because patients tend to start their treatment with a specialist and the number of specialists is limited. It has created an imbalance.

To address these problems, Olwel was officially launched in 2017 with 16 doctors covering Mohammadpur and Dhanmondi area. The startup, essentially, connects patients to doctors nearby by way of its website, hotline, and app. It provides essential doorstep healthcare services for patients who prefer to receive medical consultation at their home for a service charge of Tk 600. The doctor gives about 30 minutes to each patient, runs some general tests, and if needed refers him/her to specialists for the ailment. It intends to set up about 10 centers across the city such that doctors can reach patients' homes within 30 minutes of the call.

Jeeon: With the vision of “Making Wellbeing Universal,” Jeeon is leveraging the relationship with rural pharmacists to deliver high-quality and low-cost services to millions of rural patients. It is a telemedicine platform co-founded by Rubayat Khan that trains and gives equipment to Rural Health Practitioners (RMPs) so that they can facilitate meaningful consultations with remote doctors to provide quality healthcare services to rural patients.

Unaware of the health consequences, and perversely incentivized by pharmaceutical companies, the RMPs would previously provide steroids and powerful antibiotics that brought quick relief to patients but at the same time left an irreversible impact on their health. The team at Jeeon designed their operation around the Rural Health Practitioners (RMPs), training them to put in necessary information and pictures of a patient into an Android application. A set of physicians in Dhaka would see them, suggest treatment, medical investigations if needed, and even refer a patient to a specialized doctor in nearby facilities if the problem is complex and requires face-to-face consultation. 

Paperfly has partnered with Jeeon to deliver life-saving medicine to remote areas pharmacies of the country as a partner of Jeeon. Currently, Jeeon is developing a platform for the RMPs where they will get access to eLearning content developed exclusively for them to uplift their medical knowledge and skills. Jeeon has 4330 pharmacies in their network with a countrywide distribution channel.

Pulse: Pulse is a cloud-based telemedicine platform that enables healthcare providers to complete fully encrypted video calls with patients & provide virtual consultancy from any time, anywhere. The company started its operations in Barisal and will expand to every division to promote its services.

The platform will not only help doctors to reach more patients remotely as per their convenience but also help patients reach doctors for primary consultation and follow-up through any smart device or Pulse’s web platform. The service also provides the medical practitioners with other features including scheduling of patients' appointments, receiving video calls, instant messaging, e-prescriptions, secured file share options, and virtual chambers. It is offering a 12 monthly membership for only BDT 499 to access a 24/7 call center in partnership with Ibrahim Healthline to consult with doctors. Currently, the company has more than 1,000 registered doctors providing telemedicine services. 

Maya: Founded by Ivy Huq Russell, Maya originally started as a content-based women-focused platform in 2011. Over the past years, it has evolved into a digital healthcare platform that provides an anonymous messaging service where users can post their physical health, mental health, psychosocial and legal questions. The in-house built AI, known as Maya Expert, answers approximately 30% of the incoming questions and has 90% accuracy of answering correctly. The company also offers a B2B premium service where employers can offer Maya as a benefit to employees. The company is also looking to partner with insurance companies that can add Maya service to their bundle.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Maya has launched two premium services for its users: in-app video consultations and medicine delivery. The company also has a small ecommerce operation called Maya Shop where it sells healthcare and lifestyle products. In February 2021, the company raised $2.2 million in seed funding led by Anchorless Bangladesh and The Osiris Group, a private equity firm focused on impact investing in Asian markets. 

Moner Bondhu: Founded in 2016, Moner Bondhu is an online platform that aims to make professional counseling accessible, affordable, convenient so that anyone who struggles with life’s challenges can get help, anytime, anywhere.

According to Moner Bondhu, they have reached 20,00,000 people through online platforms and 1,10,000 people through various offline events. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have made all of their services available on various online platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp, and Imo. Migrants and RMG workers can now get professional counseling on Moner Bondhu through Imo. 

Digital Healthcare
Amarlab Kit

Amarlab: Amarlab, a digital healthcare startup that provides at-home diagnostic test services, online doctor consultation, a platform for doctors to run their practices digitally among several other solutions, is among the most prominent players in the vertical. In Bangladesh, it takes around five and a half hours on average to do a diagnostic test. A patient has to go to the diagnostic center, wait for hours to do the test, and once done, they have to visit the diagnostic center again later to collect the test report. This entire process is not only time-consuming but also stressful for the patients and their relatives. To solve this issue, Tazin Shadid along with his co-founders Dr. Ishtiaque Zahid and Sabbir Amin started to look for an innovative solution and thus established their healthtech startup, Amarlab. After a patient chooses a lab, Amarlab staff visit their house to collect samples by using their own sample collection kit and process. Next, they deliver the test result to the customers.

Currently, the company has 14 premium lab partners including Popular Diagnostic Centre, Ibn Sina hospital, United Hospital, Praava Health, Dr. Lal Path Labs, etc. On the telemedicine end, there are 2500 registered doctors and 70 doctors who are using Amarlab’s virtual chamber platform 

Amarlab has been in the most recent cohort of Accelerating Asia, a Singapore-based accelerator and startup fund, and is in the process of raising its pre-seed and seed investments. The company is planning to expand to Chittagong where they have already onboarded four labs. 

DoctorKoi: DoctorKoi is a Dhaka-based digital healthcare startup. Founded in 2017, the company offers two services: one, “a prescription writing software that enables doctors to write a prescription with a few clicks and manage their medical practice digitally” and two, online consultation services through its web. DoctorKoi works with over 1300 doctors, partners with top pharmaceutical companies, and has processed over 2.6M digital prescriptions. 

Using Digital RX, a prescription writing software, doctors can write prescriptions with just a few clicks. The company claims that the software helps doctors search a database of 27,000+ medicines, offers suggestions and presets for writing, and helps maintain patient history helping doctors to save time and provide better patient care. About 1450 doctors use its DRX software across 2000 chambers, and 500 use the software daily. The company also entered telemedicine aka online consultation amid the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the firm, it has so far served over 12k patients with online consultation. Patients can make an appointment with a doctor by making a phone call at their hotline number from 10 am to 6 pm or via their Facebook page or Doctokoi web. DoctorKoi is one of the four Bangladeshi startups that have made it into the latest cohort of Accelerating Asia. 

Digital Healthcare Solutions: Digital Healthcare Solutions is an integrated health company based in Dhaka. The company provides a wide range of services, delivered via mobile, app, and/or web, including 365 days access to doctor consultation, coverage on hospital admission and outpatient treatment, discounts at different health-related outlets, appointments with renowned doctors, on-demand medicine delivery and pathology tests, etc. 

Over the past 2 years, the Digital Healthcare Solution has served over 5.5 million members of its health subscriptions and services, combining access to micro health insurance, telemedicine, doorstep diagnostic tests, medicine delivery, and patient support programs on diabetes and maternal health. At the outset of the pandemic, it introduced an AI-based Covid-19 symptom tracker.  Around four lac people used that service. It also launched Free Corona Insurance. Overall, DH has got around six million people insured under its Micro Health Insurance plans covering medical expenses, including one lakh under Free Corona Insurance.

Daktar Bondhu: Daktar Bondhu was launched in October 2020. The founding team includes Arefin Zaman, Dr. Golam Moktadir Prince, Nazmul Hossain, and Mamun-Or-Rashid, who bring diverse skill-sets in Machine Learning, Healthcare, Technology, and Operations. Daktar Bondhu was one of the winners of the R-ventures 2.0 program sponsored by Robi Axiata Ltd, the 2nd largest telco in Bangladesh. Daktar Bondhu is also a portfolio startup of the IDEA project by the ICT division of the Govt of Bangladesh.

The company currently offers video consultations with 60+ specialist doctors across 20+ departments which include mental health, dermatology, cardiology, etc. through its mobile app. It also delivers authentic medicine and healthcare products to the patients’ doorstep within 24 hours inside Dhaka city at an affordable price. In the past year, it has covered over 3,000 doctor consultations and medicine orders. The company claims that 50% of its paying customers are recurring monthly as the app can save them up to 15% of their healthcare expenditures each month as well as save time on visits to specialist doctors. This year, the company has raised pre-seed funding from SBK Tech Ventures, a technology fund focusing on early-stage, tech-platform companies in emerging markets. 

The Way Forward

Most of these services started in the urban market. Therefore, the main long-term challenge for the healthtech industry will be to expand to remote areas and bring healthcare to the people that are the most deprived. The pandemic has accelerated the digital healthcare adaptation but it is hard to predict whether the demand will sustain post-pandemic. 

Many industry insiders suggest a technological shift, with the excellent penetration of smartphones and the internet, has happened over the last ten years creating a conducive environment for digital healthcare services, but if we look across markets, healthcare remains a tough nut to crack digitally alone. 

According to a report, the Indian health-tech market is predicted to develop at a 39% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between FY 2020-2023, reaching the US $50 billion by 2033. 

On the contrary, health tech is still very nascent in Bangladesh. It's really several small firms trying to use technology to create innovations in the healthcare industry. Several healthcare startups have already started making considerable traction. 

Over the next five years, we may see some remarkable success stories and the forming of the actual industry. Wider applications of robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence, wearables, and on-body devices, blockchain, among others, are going to change the future of healthcare. Cloud infrastructure in healthcare record maintenance and increased focus on digitalization of patient healthcare records is likely to accelerate further. 

Cover photo courtesy: Amarlab

Naziba Ali is currently in her 3rd year at IBA, University of Dhaka. She is a business enthusiast who likes to capitalize on every available opportunity and explore her potential. She is also a passionate writer who believes in the mightiness of compelling storytelling. Documentaries and docuseries are her go-to when it comes to learning about world issues in an informative, yet captivating manner. She can be reached at alinaziba0@gmail.com

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