JOHANNESBURG - A free app that lets patients do quick health check-ups on themselves is the centrepiece of a Gates Foundation-backed project to bring better care to poor regions of Africa, Asia and South America.

The medical app, also receiving funding from the Swiss-based Fondation Botnar, will be the first of its kind available in Swahili, and will also be offered free in Romania, tech start-up Ada Health said yesterday.

The project with Botnar will open up Ada’s artificial-intelligence-enabled health advice to at least 2million people in areas with little access to hospitals and providers.

Poor countries around the globe are suffering from severe shortages of health-care workers, according to the World Health Organisation, with the most severe challenges in Africa, where the unmet need is forecast to rise most sharply. Ada’s software is designed to help patients determine whether they need care and put them in touch with nearby services when they’re required, relieving pressure on health systems.

“It helps you get a better idea of the medical condition that’s causing symptoms, and then helps you make an informed decision about next steps,” said Daniel Nathrath, Berlin-based Ada’s co-founder and chief executive.

“In Tanzania, often the best option will be to find out where the closest community health worker is.”

The Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the world’s richest charity, with $51billion in endowment assets as of the end of 2017. While it didn’t give the size of the foundation’s support, Ada said it would use funding from Gates (foundation) and Botnar to hire staff for the new projects.