Dr. Chichi Menakaya is CEO and founder of Annomo Health, an international premium medical concierge.
The UK-based medical doctor discusses how she has redefined the future of medicine following the COVID-19 pandemic and re-created a personalised patient pathway to ensure a seamless health journey through Annomo Health. Excerpts:
What actually inspired you to start the health initiative?
Confronted multiple times by the daunting concerns of friends and relatives with medical needs, I realised it wasn’t only about coming abroad for healthcare but about having the best doctor to offer that care.
It’s easy to google the best surgeons in the UK or even in the world but it’s hard to know who the best doctor is for you as an individual. Annomo Health was launched to address these concerns in 2013. We started just connecting international private patients to top clinicians in the United Kingdom and today, we have grown into a full-fledged health and lifestyle concierge.
One might be tempted to think that the service is for the elite exclusively…
This is a big misconception because when a member of your family or close friend becomes suddenly unwell, you know that you want them to be treated by the best doctor available, not just any available doctor and with the latest technology and treatment protocols. A health concierge ensures that you achieve this and takes away the uncertainties that come with choosing the best care. On the contrary, it saves you money and time.
Can you give us some of the successful stories recorded within the eight-year period you have operated this health service? As an organisation that connects people to world-class doctors, how do you go about sourcing for these doctors all over the world?
We have a very meticulous process before a clinician or a hospital or group is included in our services. Our organisation is founded and run by doctors who are leaders in their respective fields with a huge network of world-renowned Centres of Excellence. So in the first instance, we have banked on our years of experience and interactions with other doctors to select our specialists. We go for the doctor known for making global impact or bringing change that ensures optimum care. These are the doctors’ doctors, colleagues that we would be happy to treat us if we were the client. We review their clinical outcomes and we set a standard that has to be met. Last but not the least, we review the patient’s experiences with the chosen clinician. If you are the best doctor but not able to listen to your patients, that patient’s experience will be horrible, so we narrow our list by choosing only top clinicians with excellent patient experiences. For the hospitals we work with, we choose them based on whether they have a track record of excellence or not and also their access to the latest technology and treatment protocols.
The service is quite sensitive as it has to do with human lives. It means your delivery, most times, can save life. But on the other hand, have you had a situation where, a client felt dissatisfied, perhaps due to loss of life?
Health is an extremely complex matter. Sometimes, by the time patients come to us, it may be too late for medicine to make a difference. We have also seen inoperable situations where we cannot help. It’s all about managing client expectations. We have one general rule, if as clinicians we believe that the patient has passed the stage where we can make a difference, we tend to advise the family to avoid travelling and just put things in place. Even though this is a business, we are doctors first and therefore ensure our service is patient-driven and not profit-driven. This is horrible news to break and can cause a lot of conflicts. It’s extremely hard to tell someone that in our medical opinion, their loved ones won’t get better no matter where they go. We have clients shouting down the phone after these conversations, so we listen and lend a hand at times like this. I find these situations very difficult for the client.
You have a medical background, your father, Dr Tim Ndubisi Menakaya, having served under President Olusegun Obasanjo as a Federal Minister for Health. Did this your robust background prepare you for what you are doing?
My background has influenced me a whole lot and I always joke that I was born to be a doctor. For as long as I can remember, I lived in a world surrounded by great doctors especially my father and they all had one goal, their patients first. “Patient first” is the word I resonate with to date. It’s hard not to have this influence you every day. I admire my father a lot. Not only was he the No1 man in health but also a renowned and well-respected doctor who pioneered the private medical practice in Nigeria.
Today, I still look to him for guidance and words of wisdom. My mum, Chief Magistrate (Mrs.) Ann Menakaya (late) on the other hand, challenged me constantly to be the best in all I do. She set the stage for everything I have become today, so believe me if you are born into this home, you only aspire to deliver the best always. That is the core value of Annomo Health.
When are you coming back home to contribute to healthcare in Africa, particularly, Nigeria?
Nigeria is and will always be my home. I have been working with different health institutions in Nigeria for the past 10 years targeting providing affordable healthcare, promoting preventative medicine and health education in rural communities. I was part of a team who went into a private-public partnership with Anambra State Government to revamp and modernise three rural hospitals.
However, my ultimate goal is to bring all these years of experience and strong collaborations back to Nigeria and Africa as a whole one day on a larger scale. I want to bring Annomo Health home to Africa. The beauty of this is that majority of renowned international institutions and clinicians that we work with are very keen on Africa and Nigeria in particular. They are happy to help rebuild our health systems which is great but as a people, we need to be ready to receive it. I am hopeful that we will achieve this soon and I will be home seeing this happen.
What role did your organisation play during the pandemic and what is the situation now that the pandemic is subsiding?
The pandemic took the world by surprise. It has been a difficult time. We offered a free membership year to all members but still supported members by offering a listening ear especially with the uncertainties of Covid-19 and the effects of the vaccines. We provided members with free Covid-19 testing kits to ensure they had peace of mind to face their businesses in Nigeria.
We swiftly modified our services to take healthcare to members’ homes no matter where in the world by virtual consultations. We then identified top specialists in their home countries who offered our members the health they needed and were supported by our clinical advisory board of world-renowned top specialists.
At the moment, we have put in place a bespoke service tailored to survivors of Covid-19 to ensure they can get their lives back to normal as soon as possible. This is a robust rehabilitation protocol launching in August 2021that we are extremely excited to announce. Our members will benefit from a service that aims to tackle the physical and psychological effects of Covid-19 infection. In 2020, we donated over 15,000 boxes of masks to rural communities and hospitals with charitable ethos in both Eastern Nigeria and Abuja.
Having practised in UK and other advanced countries, what is your take on the Nigerian health sector?
I have been lucky, even though I have practised in all these countries, I was trained in Nigeria. I have therefore experienced both worlds, and as they say, experience is the best teacher. Nigeria is a country full of great talents and skilled medical professionals with the majority offering their best despite the constraints. Our health system needs a lot of help and it’s not just infrastructural development. We have a huge problem. We need to address the attitude of citizens concerning their health. I can never forget my fourth year in medical school when a wife of a top surgeon presented with fungating breast cancer. With her level of knowledge, she kept the lump hidden praying it goes away till it was too late. So if a woman that educated and married to medicine does not seek help, what happens to an uneducated woman who has never heard the word lump? Then there is the issue of health policies, our healthcare needs better regulations. We need policies that make health workers and facilities accountable to citizens. We need a transparent attitude from doctors and patients.
A lot of people still don’t believe in Covid-19 vaccine. What is your reaction to such beliefs?
COVID-19 infection has been devasting to a lot of families with people losing so many loved ones and survivors struggling with very bad lingering Covid-19 symptoms. I believe that despite the very limited side effects reported with vaccines, the benefit outweighs these risks. Covid-19 continues to evolve and we are learning every day but the vaccination has seen numbers go down drastically. I have been fully vaccinated so I encourage everyone to get their vaccines. It ensures you do not get a life-threatening Covid-19 infection, it is completely essential.
Back to Annomo. How did you come about the name?
“Annomo” is my mother, “Ann Okwuchukwu Menakaya Orakwue.” My mother was the epitome of good health. She walked, spoke, ate, and practised healthy living. I admired her so much. So when we launched in 2013, I knew that since we aimed to deliver premium care, my mum was the best ambassador for that. So I stole the name from her, coined by my brother, Dr. Chinedu Menakaya. I wanted others to enjoy the benefits of grace aging as she had.
Do you think Annomo services will be useful in a country where power supply is not regular, where infrastructure is inadequate and where some basic amenities are not available?
As I previously mentioned, good health is a basic human right. Annomo Health works in every environment because it is customised to meet an individual’s needs and circumstances irrespective of their environment. Our core values are simple, premium health care that addresses the medical, functional and psychosocial outcomes of our clients. Our group firmly believes in the value of personal one-on-one medical assistance. So in places where infrastructure is an issue, we work around our members, harness what is available to them, supply what’s missing, and then create a realistic bespoke personalised medical service tailored to meet their individual needs.
During the pandemic when there was a ban on international travel, our members continued to enjoy optimum services irrespective of what was going on around them. We swiftly modified our services to take the healthcare to their homes no matter where they were in the world. We expanded our virtual consultations to ensure our members could still speak to their doctors in the UK, USA, UAE, or Germany. We created an international medication delivery service so members didn’t run out of their prescriptions. In a nutshell, Annomo Health is like a personal assistant who ensures everything related to your health and lifestyle is sorted.
Tell us about the post-Covid-19 rehabilitation service for Covid-19 survivors due for launch in August, 2021?
Millions of survivors of Covid-19 globally continue to suffer with lingering symptoms like fatigue, muscle ache, shortness of breath and many other symptoms. Our robust rehabilitation protocol will address these symptoms according to the client’s needs with the aim of ensuring that survivors can get their lives back to normal as soon as possible. They will benefit from a service that tackles the medical, physical and psychological effects of Covid-19 infection. This will be offered as a luxurious holiday package spanning either 7 or 14 days in the United Kingdom, Dubai, or Germany but with the option to deliver it in their own homes as well if requested.
Tell us also how you were able to switch to virtual medical consultations during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This was very simple. Annomo Health only has one aim, to make our clients’ lives easier and comfortable, so when they were unable to travel or found the entire pandemic petrifying, we quickly modified our services to meet their needs. We are very lucky, we have built strong relationships with our doctors and hospitals, and like us, they only have one goal, client first.
So via telephone, zoom, teams, facetime, and even WhatsApp video, our clients were able to speak to their doctors in the UK, USA, UAE, or Germany.
We also started to offer virtual allied health services including virtual physiotherapy, psychology, and nutritionist services. We then identified top specialists in their home countries who offered our members the health they needed and were supported by our clinical advisory board of world-renowned top specialists.
Your Annomo Health seems to accommodate well qualified doctors that cut across over 55 medical and surgical disciplines. Could you please mention some of the illnesses that your initiative could help treat?
We sort out any medical illnesses but most importantly, we are big on disease prevention so that illness doesn’t happen in the first place. There are over 10,000 potential clinical diagnoses across all ages and specialties, so as doctors, we know that one size does not fit all and therefore we focus on the individual client’s situation. We have seen different situations from cardiac problems, different types of cancers, fertility issues to clients seeking annual wellness checks and cosmetic and plastic procedures. For some situations, we have developed a dedicated team, this covers cancer care, ophthalmology, pediatrics, fertility and pregnancy care. From Professors of Surgery, top cardiologists and pediatricians, your care will be by the most respected clinicians and hospitals in the UK, USA, Germany, and UAE.
We also have clients who just need stress management to let their hair down. Through our unique health weekends, you can be in London or Dubai on Friday, have a complete health check, enjoy a refreshing weekend in a five-star hotel, benefit from personal shopping or just a night in the theatres or your favourite restaurant and be back in Nigeria on time for a meeting on Monday.