The chances of meeting a medical graduate practising journalism are usually very slim, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. But two Tanzanian physicians have broken away from that norm by inventing a start-up called Afyatoon. It uses visual art technology to tell compelling medical stories. They narrate to the EAST Site their experience and share their vision for the future.
At only 27 years, Edwin Ngula Luguku, is the CEO and founder of Afyatoon. Glory Charles Mlagwa, his counterpart, a lab technician and project manager, is even younger at 23.
Afya means health in Kiswahili, and toon is short for cartoon. As the name suggests, Afyatoon is a health-oriented organisation that uses animation to tell health stories on digital platforms such as YouTube, WhatsApp, and Instagram.
The two young innovators seek to carve a unique niche in Tanzania’s media industry. Of course, there are perils along the way, but the pair is young, exuberant, intelligent and eager to explore.
Intriguingly, their desire to tell medical stories was birthed while studying medicine-related campus courses.
Four professionals – all medics – and seven consultants also trained in medicine now make up Afyatoon.
“I’m an intern doctor in Dar es Salaam, but this initiative – telling medical stories through animation – began in 2018 through a project called Amka Kijana,” Edwin recounts. “We were trying to create content on HIV/Aids prevalence in Tanzania to create awareness, particularly for the youth,” he explains.
Amka Kijana would later morph into Afyatoon.
“From the little survey we did, we realised the problem lay in how the messages – about HIV/Aids – were being delivered,” Edwin further explains.
“We set out to make this (story-telling) educational and entertaining.” They did this by, for instance, looking at modalities; when talking about a specific parameter in HIV. “We also explored mental health and non-communicable diseases. So, from Amka Kijana, we formed Afyatoon.”
Partnering with health centres
Edwin says that as much as they are medics trying to explore journalism, the unique value proposition in their project hasn’t changed. They use animations, 3Ds and motion graphics to tell their impactful health stories.
Afyatoon has partnered with some hospitals to have their content relayed on screens in waiting areas of such facilities to reach a wider audience.
“We are utilising hospital waiting areas – where patients stay as they wait to see doctors. If it’s a cardiac-based hospital, we relay cardiac-based content. We’re innovating on modalities and tools used to give education,” Edwin says.
According to him, the response has been ‘satisfactory’, based on the content they are producing.
“We once did an online project on mental health called ‘Hold-My-Hand’, and we had a very high audience engagement,” Edwin proudly expounds, adding that the youth were particularly keen on being co-opted as content co-creators.
“We’ve also analysed audience perception of our content, which got high reviews and strong video preference, particularly comic videos,” he explains.
While acknowledging that they still have a long way to go, Edwin is optimistic that fine-tuning their start-up at the Innovators-in-Residence will make them better storytellers, content creators and even managers.
“This – innovators-in-residence – is new to us. Likewise, the concept of human-centred design is also new to us, but we need it if we are to attain sustainability.”
He said the IiR experience had exposed them to so many new things and that they were grateful for the tremendous support from coaches, trainers and community managers.
The duo is optimistic that the experience gathered will make them more skilled in project management as a media outlet.
At the MIC, they’ve also learnt other essential aspects of story-telling, including fact-checking. Edwin picks out two things that are already standing out as must-dos; experience learning about projects as a media outlet and working with other media innovators on fact-checking.
The pursuit of Media Viability
“In any project, we wish for two things: Attaining sustainability (media viability) through a media-based business model through Lean Canvas,” Edwin says. “And to see that the work here comes to reality,” he added, reckoning that this work is getting them into spaces they’d never imagined.
Edwin’s partner in the project, Glory, notes that she, too, is looking to gain journalistic skills from the IiR programme.
“All along, we’ve been doing this, not from a journalist’s point of view, but now we have the human-centred design, so we’re looking at the sustainability of the project into a health-based media – a major media house in Tanzania that deals with health content,” Glory says.
However, the Afyatoon duo notes that conceptualising and making their content commercially attractive remains their biggest challenge, a steep hill they hope to surmount soon.
The other major challenge, Edwin admits, is customer appreciation. They are not sure what kind of customers will pay for their content. To help overcome this challenge, they have lots of discussions with their coaches.
“Our users cannot be the ones to pay for production and dissemination. So the question about the best business approach, acquiring new skills, and time management is of the essence,” Edwin concludes.
That’s why I think today is such a great space for us to sit back and reflect on the questions that could help us shape the kind of journalism that we want to see in our local and global community.
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