A new Saudi healthcare app looks to solve the obesity epidemic

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This article has been crossposted with Firnas.org

We are surrounded by problems but it is those who are brave enough that see them as opportunities to be seized. With this simple approach, it is not surprising to see the success story of Sami Al Hussayen and Fouad Al Farhan, the two Saudis who brought us the open learning platform Rawq

Now, following on from their success (they have over 300,000 registered users in 172 countries) in investing in the community and education, the two have taken a step into the healthcare sector with Junnah. Launched in December 2014 at an event in Jeddah, the Arabic health and fitness platform offers online scientific training programs to prevent and deal with popular diseases in the Arab world, through which users can follow a given diet and workout plan.

The scary numbers 

According to The Economist, a quarter of Saudis suffer from diabetes while 35 percent are obese. People currently affected with the illness in the Kingdom are estimated at three million, and 150,000 new diabetes cases are diagnosed each year. The metabolic disease which causes high levels of sugar in the blood is the number one cause of lower-limb amputations in the country, with 6,000 diabetes patients go through the process each year. 

Moreover, diabetes is considered the second leading cause of death in the country, with 42 daily death cases resulting from diabetes complications, and more than 200,000 annual deaths. 

It is also a costly disease, for both patient and health sector - total direct costs for diabetes amount to 12 billion Saudi Riyals (US$3.1 billion) per year, and total indirect costs amounting to 88 billion Saudi riyals per year, meaning that diabetes is costing the government a yearly amount of 100 billion riyals.

These figures are frightening and worrisome; however, the cofounders perceived them as an opportunity to be exploited - Junnah. They made a plan to address many illnesses, starting with diabetes. They are also working on a plan to offer a lifestyle that includes a healthy and balanced diet, along with exercises, with the help of a group of specialists. The platform automatically monitors the activities of users through smart devices and wearables, all through a social network that allows for the exchange of experiences and motivation.

“The diabetes program is the first of a series of programs that Junnah will launch successively, including programs on pregnancy, losing weight, quitting smoking, autism and many more,” says Al Hussayen.

Technology serving health

According to Al Hussayen and Al Farhan, a healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of diabetes by 58 percent. With their platform, those looking to adopt a healthier lifestyle through a social network, with various applications that can track physical activity, like number of steps taken and calories consumed, can merge with other apps like RunKeeper, FitBit, Jawbone, Nike+ Running, Google Fit. 

Be your own doctor

“We aim at educating people who are most likely to catch the disease so they can act as their own doctors,” says Al Hussayen when describing the platform. “We want you to take control of things related to your health and to make it fun. The whole family can open accounts on Junnah and set a competition among them. Companies can also provide their staff with a work environment that cares for their health and not only their working hours,” he adds.

Junnah offers most of its services free of charge, except for those supervised by medical specialists and those dedicated to companies. Junnah’s team currently has specialized doctors on board.

With a PhD in computer science, Al Hussayen is fully aware of the importance of technology in the health sector, and describes what he and his cofounder do as “humanization”. “We work on humanizing technology through projects that have a positive impact on society.”

Rwaq and Junnah are just two examples of how you can turn a disaster into an opportunity for growth. And hopefully with their next projects, set to be announced later this quarter, we’ll see more problems turned into solutions. 

Feature image via Flickr.com

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