After losing her sister to kidney cancer 16 years ago, Dr Lola Salako developed a passionate interest in cancer care. This led to the launching of Sebeccly Cancer Care, a platform which uses technology to amplify the existing ways cancer care was being carried out. This is her story.
‘Oncopadi’ is a coined term which means a friend of cancer patients. It is a cancer care app created by Dr Lola Salako out of a need to increase access to cancer specialist care in the country.
“There are less than 100 radiation oncologists for the 140,000 known cancer patients in the country. One way we can bridge the access gap and get more patients to see the right specialist on time is by leveraging digital health tools,” Dr Salako told me.
For her, the need for the cancer app was very evident because of the activities of Sebeccly Cancer Care, the NGO she started in memory of her sister. In 2018, Sebeccly screened 3,000 women for cancer and increased the number to 7000 in 2019.
The goal to increase the number of screened persons yearly meant that more people would be in need of specialist care and there needed to be a way to refer patient and monitor their health.
Consultations and treatments for cancer leaves a huge dent in the pockets of people who are able to afford them. For most people, treatment is not on their radar because of low spending power.
To take the edge off this problem, Oncopadi has the support of many radiation oncologists in Nigeria.
Besides the goodwill of Sebeccly Cancer Care that Oncopadi leverages, radiation oncologists volunteer their time to consult and give their expertise to patients. The healthtech startup is preparing for its first round of funding to help scale its operations.
The Oncopadi model
According to Lola Salako, the Oncopadi platform runs two models. While there are those who come online and volunteer, there are those who come online with their patients and use Oncopadi as an enterprise platform to render telemedicine services to them.
Hospitals and specialists who want to use the platform to render medical services virtually can book sessions or clinic days per week ahead on the platformDr Lola Salako
A consultation on Oncopadi entails a 1-hour session with the consultant, access to an electronic medical record, a consultation summary with a clear referral line which can be a doctor’s number or name to ask for in the public hospital.
Dr Salako explained that Oncopadi is very particular about referring patients to public hospitals because the goal is to strengthen the structures that are already available, not replace them. Except a patient specifically requests for it, specialists who use the platform do not refer patients to private hospitals or those outside the country.
Cost of care for cancer patients in the public health sector is high and limited. Still, there are partnerships and initiatives that have been put in place to make cancer care affordable for all and sundry. If these initiatives are implemented, it would help with patient care especially as most patients only need aid with part of the cost, not all.
Innovating with COVID-19
Just like everywhere else in the world, COVID-19 has disrupted a lot of the plans that Sebeccly Cancer Care had for the year. One of these plans is the goal to screen 10,000 people for cancer across primary healthcare centres in the country which has been put on hold.
However, the pandemic just made the need for Oncopadi more pressing because cancer cells keep growing regardless of lockdowns and people need to be able to access specialists when appropriate.
Dr Lola Salako however assured that Oncopadi is adapting to the current needs of patients. She explained that counselling sessions and survivor group sessions now happen on the Oncopadi platforms.
We optimized the platform to help people analyse their symptoms to detect risk level for the COVID-19. Those who are symptomatic are referred to the right hospitals and the hospitals themselves are alerted ahead of the patient’s visitLola Salako
All of Oncopadi’s services can be found in its web app. This includes a health shop which is run in partnership with healthcare providers to help people get tests done at discounted prices.
On the platform, anyone can ask their health-related questions and receive answers and referrals from any of the 8 specialists who volunteer on the chat. The survivor peer groups for cancer patients are closed and are only accessible to patients on the platform.
Most memorable achievements
For Salako, the achievements she considers most dear to her are Sebeccly’s attempt to create a Guinness Record and the people that go through the Cancer care program and those that make it work.
We did not create the Guinness record but we got 7,598 people to form the pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness in Nigeria. We lost the record by 600 people to another organization in the middle east but the highlight was that such a huge number of people came out to create the awareness with usLola Salako
“Another highlight is the volunteers, staff, cancer survivors who have been a part of our activities. We work in such a way that when people leave us, they leave as better versions of themselves. Many of our volunteers have gone on to pursue careers in Oncology”.
“The most rewarding thing is to see people learn from your well, and then create more wells from the community that everyone gets to draw from.”Dr Lola Salako
One of the next targets for Dr Lola Salako is borne out of concern for the emotional well-being of oncologists in the field because oncology is a tedious field where it is easy for people to get burnt out and continuously undergo emotional distress because of the high death rate in that field.
The target, therefore, is to create solutions or set up structures that cater to the oncologists even as they cater to patients.
“My decisions are based on why I started Sebeccly and Oncopadi in the first place. I started it to help people live healthier, happier lives,” Salako says.
A number of people share the same passion, and currently, Dr Salako runs a program called X-Labs. Here, medical students and healthcare enthusiasts are exposed to digital health, ongoing projects and innovations in the medical field that can give them a better grasp of telemedicine.
Still at the early stages of the journey, Salako foresees that the positive consequences of Oncopadi and Sebeccly on cancer patients and healthcare in the country can only continue to increase with funding, volunteering and participation from relevant stakeholders.