AU, Yale students aim to fill health care gaps

Munyaradzi Chakonda (left) from Africa University and Jon Schulder (right) from Yale. Composite created by Kathleen Barry, UM News.
Munyaradzi Chakonda (left) from Africa University and Jon Schulder (right) from Yale. Composite created by Kathleen Barry, UM News.
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An Africa University student and a Yale University student have co-founded a company they hope can provide small solar-powered clinics in African communities that have no health care.

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Munyaradzi Chakonda, a freshman business management major at Africa University, and Jon Schulder, a sophomore history major at Yale University, met at Yale in 2017. Both were participating in the Yale Young Global Scholars program. Since then, they have co-founded a company, securing a three-way partnership and startup funding.

Dubbed the “Ubuntu Clinic,” their idea involves the use of micro-franchising to roll out solar-powered mini-clinics in African communities where health care infrastructure is nonexistent, deteriorating or woefully inadequate.

“Ubuntu Clinic,” Chakonda said, “will radically transform the health care industry as we know it today in the region and bring astronomical social value to vulnerable communities.” 

Transformation is critical. Millions of Africans suffer and die each year from diseases and in circumstances that are easily treated or prevented. Currently, one in every six children born in sub-Saharan Africa dies before age 5. More than two-thirds of all women who die in childbirth worldwide each year live in the region. Average life expectancy at birth in sub-Saharan Africa is 46 years, compared with 67 in Asia, the region with the world’s second-lowest life expectancy.

Chakonda and Schulder believe the Ubuntu Clinic will successfully address four key challenges that limit access to primary health care in sub-Saharan Africa: geographic availability of facilities, quality and ease of obtaining care, affordability and acceptability, which is understood as having the right equipment and personnel in the right places to meet community needs.

“Our goal is to become a model for the great things that can happen when Americans and Africans partner for good,” said Schulder.

The originality and promise inherent in Ubuntu Clinic’s approach to these challenges attracted support from Africa University and a South Africa-based public-sector project-implementation firm called Global Performance Designs. Now, the three entities are combining their resources to put the Ubuntu Clinic approach to the test.

The central product is a modular clinic, housed in a recycled shipping container and equipped specifically for the needs of each target community. The team estimates that this smaller and technology-driven commercial facility will cost around $10,000 and be a better fit for underserved areas than the traditional government and mission clinics that are too few and far for many communities.

While the team awaits the delivery of the first container clinic, a grant to Africa University from the a U.S.-based charitable foundation is supporting the collection of baseline data in target communities.

Four high-density, peri-urban communities close to Africa University have already been identified as potential Ubuntu Clinic sites. All four are fast-growing communities, where residents earn solid income but are still desperately underserved.

Ubuntu Clinic, in collaboration with Africa University and Global Performance Designs, will operate under a joint-venture agreement.

excerpt from a story by Andra Stevens, director of communications for the Africa University Development office and Barbara Dunlap-Berg, freelance writer and editor based in Carbondale, Illinois.

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