When coronavirus (Covid-19) cases started surging in India in April, a few senior business and technology leaders created a WhatsApp group hoping to find a solution to help people at large. Seeing the unfolding of events in Europe and the US, they knew they could not fight the virus alone.
“Instead of unnecessarily competing at this time, we thought we should join forces and offer our services,” said former banker and philanthropist Nachiket Mor, who was involved with the initiative from day one.
In a matter of days, word spread and the likes of Kris Gopalakrishnan and Nandan Nilekani joined, along with several startups such as Practo, Medlife and 1mg coming on board. After eight weeks of brainstorming, evening meetings and discussions, Swasth app was born to give a tech response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.
The app is a coalition of over 100 healthcare specialists who have come together to provide telemedicine solutions to people for free with consultation service in Hindi, English and Gujarati. It will be expanded to 25 Indian languages soon. Dhruv Suyamprakasam, founder at icliniq.com, which is a telemedicine partner at Swasth, calls it a “super group” with people from all verticals coming in.
Gopalakrishnan, who is a part of the Swasth Governing Council, says while in the short-term the app will provide Covid-19 related consulting, in the medium to long term, this will become the single platform for telemedicine consulting. “I was brought in by mid-April to support (the project), and I am a member of the Governing Council which primarily looks at governance. Today, over 100 entities including hospitals, labs, clinics, pharmacies are part of the coalition while the work is done through over 150 volunteers,” said Gopalakrishnan.
There are 7 teams which run the app namely advisory, governance, funding, project, medical product council, tech and product council. “Some companies even gave out their codes to build the app even though they knew Swasth has a commitment that all its (source) codes will be out in the public domain,” said Mor, who is part of the governing council with a mandate to bring in the independence of the app to avoid any for-profit players. The team is also working on home isolation solutions, bed allocation, and oxygen therapy programmes, which are at different stages of development, and will be rolled out soon. These services will be provided at a subsidised rate. “The whole idea of the programme is that 10 minds are better than one. So let’s put all the best minds together,” added Mor.
The team is expecting over two million calls on the app. Anyone can join the group without any bias as it runs on a “Round Robin” algorithm. The allocation algorithm is designed in a way to allocate incoming demand amongst all providers fairly.
For example, when a new consultation request comes in, all providers are polled to check their ability to service that request, and an allocation is then made keeping in mind the language of the consultation, capacity of the provider networks and also demand serviced so far. Thus in a low demand scenario, all providers will see low, but equal demand. On the contrary, when demand is high, each provider network can service maximum consultations in line with their capacity.
Swasth has received a grant of $1.3 million from the ACT Grants, an umbrella platform of entrepreneurs and investors backing start-ups fighting the pandemic.