By: Nelendhre Moodley
“Access to quality healthcare is a basic human right and all stakeholders need to come to the party in ensuring that this becomes a reality, particularly in places of employment,” says Aurum Innova’s COO Bandile Mathandela.
“A number of companies simply do not adhere to this requirement as many employees are exposed to various risks and hazards daily. This is where Aurum Innova provides assistance to organisations in the mining and industrial space, particularly the smaller companies who don’t have a budget to set up an on-site hospital,” says Mathandela.
Established in 2006, Aurum Innova is a subsidiary of the Aurum Institute, one of Africa’s largest public benefit organisations working in tuberculosis (TB) and HIV with a presence in more than 10 countries. Aurum Innova offers mobile diagnostics health, primary healthcare services, occupational health and corporate wellness, innovative media solutions, specialised procurement as well as strategic health consulting services.
As a specialist in healthcare solutions, Aurum Innova strives to provide services and support to various organisations, particularly in the mining sector, in the form of occupational health and wellness. This encompasses risk assessments of places of employment, medical screening and surveillance, as well as diagnostic services.
The diagnostic offering includes occupational lung disease screenings; benefit medical examinations; entry, periodic and exit X-ray examinations; TB prevalence studies and radiology reporting. All this is provided through mobile diagnostic units that can be deployed to even the most remote areas. These mobile units are installed with solar panels and have built-in servers that enable them to operate offline.
To ensure high-quality service delivery Aurum Innova is fully staffed with qualified medical personnel, including radiographers and doctors who work through e-health solutions. This approach fully embraces the call by the South African government to transition to the Fourth Industrial Revolution in a bid to ensure adequate, continuous service delivery to healthcare recipients.
Aurum Innova has worked with a Netherlands-based company, Delft Imaging Systems, that has developed artificial intelligence for chest X-rays – a computer-aided diagnostic tool (CAD4TB). CAD4TB indicates whether TB, or other abnormalities, are possibly present in a client and whether further investigation is needed. The solution is recognised by the World Health Organization and is used in various TB studies globally.
“In essence, TB detection can be done in less than a minute and quite possibly help with saving lives. For mines, this means that a decision on whether to send a miner back to work can be made immediately, depending on what CAD4TB picks up. Currently, a miner is only allowed to go down a shaft once she or he has a fitness certificate. That can take anything between 24 to 48 hours leaving mine workers being forced to remain idle until they receive the certificate. With approximately only 15% of screenings reporting abnormalities, it can be assumed that the majority of miners tend to have normal readings, so not working because of certification waiting times reflects a loss in productivity. The CAD4TB tool is especially useful when large-scale screening needs to be performed in resource limited settings,” says interim CEO Professor Vinodh Edward.
In a recent project for the Department of Correctional Services, Aurum Innova was required to conduct X-rays for inmates and staff to assist in driving down the TB prevalence rate in prisons. Aurum Innova completed over 200 000 chest X-rays in three years. The CAD4TB tool was used to triage clients, improve efficiencies and ensure cost savings.
According to Edward, conventional TB testing methods are expensive. Using CAD4TB to screen clients reduces costs because only those clients who display abnormalities will require further testing.
Discussing how its smart solutions operate, Mathandela explains that Aurum Innova’s doctors are based all over South Africa, while its mobile unit, equipped with the latest cutting-edge technology, travels to various sites (urban, semi-urban and rural), where clinical examinations and testing take place. Completed screenings are uploaded in real time onto a cloud server and assessed by the doctors who are able to provide feedback to the client within a matter of minutes. “This enables us to reach people in remote areas and offer them the same reports and quality of service that a person standing in front of the doctor would get,” says Edward.
Aurum Innova’s mobile clinic service is especially useful to small mining operations, which are unable to provide the services that big mines have, or healthcare-related products such as HIV self-screening kits, vital sign screenings and any other health-related screenings and tests.
While Aurum Innova’s smart solutions are fast gaining interest across the Southern African Development Community (SADC), its services remain hampered by access to reliable network coverage. “We are in conversations with various companies in the telecommunications sector to establish network points within identified areas,” says Mathandela. Meanwhile, the company has equipped its mobile units with generators – seven trucks are equipped with solar solutions and two with diesel generators. The units are also fitted with mobile Wi-Fi capabilities to provide internet services to those working in and around the unit.
Aurum Innova looks to expand its SADC footprint
Apart from operating locally Aurum Innova has expanded its services in the SADC region.
“We already work in Zambia and are in conversations with the governments of Botswana and Zambia to use our mobile clinic services to test for the prevalence of TB, as well as assisting with health campaigns through our media team,” says Mathandela.
While Aurum Innova is evaluating options related to expanding its footprint into the rest of Africa, it currently has two trucks stationed in Zambia conducting community screenings for various clients. This has been in operation since June 2019.
“Our strength lies in our ability to reach even the most remote and rural areas across the Southern Africa region. We work with underserved communities and marginalised individuals to ensure that they receive access to world-class services in a convenient manner. We work with a wide range of clients across sectors,” says Edward.
“As a company, we remain rooted in the principle of serving people,” says Mathandela. “At the core of our values are the people, the clients we serve, the communities we operate in and the staff members who implement the work.”
The impact of the company’s work is around early detection which results in timeous relevant care to the recipient. This ensures good clinical outcomes and assists organisations maintain healthy workforces. Additionally, early detection and reaching those who cannot easily access services avoids late presentation for healthcare (often with complications and/or comorbidities) thereby reducing the burden on the health system, the company says.
As part of the compensation for occupational lung diseases in miners and ex-miners only, administered by the Medical Bureau of Occupational Disease which falls under the Department of Health Chief Directorate: Non Communicable Diseases, Aurum Innova has already conducted over 10 000 benefit medical examinations on ex-mineworkers who may have contracted occupational lung diseases working in the mineshafts of South Africa.
“Being able to assist these ex-miners get screened, with the possibility of receiving compensation, where relevant, is something we are proud of. This compensation in many cases will be life-changing,” says Edward.