Skip to main content

“Healthcare and welfare services should be accessible to everyone”

Portrait Rustam Nabiev
“It is unacceptable that healthcare personnel in Uganda have to spend 16 minutes of their valuable time with each child that is to be vaccinated on administration, instead of teaching the parents about diet and how to care for the child instead. Our technology reduces this administration time to 4 minutes,” Nabiev says.
Published Dec 16, 2021

Rustam Nabiev, the recipient of the KTH Innovation Award for 2021, grew up in the shadow of civil war in Tajikistan.
When he was 12-years old, he supported his family by collecting PET bottles. Today, his company facilitates functioning healthcare and welfare services for people living in areas where there is no phone and internet connectivity or roads.

In 1992, civil war broke out in Tajikistan and Rustam Nabiev’s parents fled to the north of the country with their children.
“My dad was a doctor but was very poorly paid and my mum looked after my younger siblings, so I took it upon myself to help with the family finances,” he says. 

Nabiev began his early career path by washing cars outside a hotel, until the day a competing gang of older boys outmuscled him and put a stop to that enterprise.

“I then discovered that an acquaintance in a neighbouring town was making a living by collecting loads and loads of empty PET bottles and claiming the deposit on them. I offered to go from door to door in my area after school asking for empty PET bottles, that I then sold on to him, and we both made a decent profit,” Nabiev says.

Sometime later as a teenager, he was queuing on behalf of his family for milk and bread distributed by an aid organisation and was outraged by what he witnessed. They always closed the hatch on the truck at a certain time of day, even if some people were still waiting in the queue outside.

“They said they had run out of stuff, but later in the afternoon, I saw the same truck parked in the market where they were selling the food that was left. I thought, ‘how hard can it be to create systems where people take responsibility for what they give and take?’. All societies need controlled processes to enable people to get help.”

Portrait Rustam Nabiev
Shifo’s solutions are used in more than 3,000 health service delivery points in 8 low-income countries with more than 1 million children being registered with unique ID to date, and over 230,000 children have received vaccinations and become fully immunised.

When Nabiev’s youngest sibling was three, his mum started her own business, and asked him to stop collecting bottles and focus on his schoolwork instead.

“But my business was profitable, so I selected a few enterprising class mates who wanted to earn some money of their own. Suddenly, I had about ten boys collecting PET bottles for me. But mum got fed up with the cellar at home always being full of empty PET bottles, and put a stop to it, so I handed the enterprise to a class mate and got stuck into my studies properly.”

When he was 18, Nabiev left the country to study computer science in Germany before applying to Sweden and KTH to study for a master’s degree.
“I studied digital solutions for healthcare, worked as a research assistant and did field work in Africa. I came to realise that I wanted to make primary care more efficient and accessible to everyone in the low-income countries, and became involved in founding Shifo,” he says.
Read more about KTH Innovation Award

A health worker in Uganda fills out a patient form with a mobile phone and pen
A health care worker in Uganda fills in patient forms for previously unregistered persons. Smart Paper Technology is a simple solution with a form for registering children and parents with unique ID. Patient medical records are continuously updated and accessible on care personnel smart phones via Smart Paper, even when there is no internet connection available.

To get the logistics to work in locations around the world where there were no telephone and internet connectivity or roads, Shifo uses its own innovation, Smart Paper Technology, that with the aid of a paper form, saves 96 percent of the time otherwise spent on administration in maternity clinics. In the case of vaccination centres, the technology saves 72 percent of the time personnel need for paperwork.

Health workers bring the form from the rural clinic to towns, where it is scanned and digitalised. Shifo’s solution is described as a “hybrid solution of a paper and data product for primary care and healthcare”. 

“Our employees enable healthcare personnel to register each baby born in a village quickly and efficiently, and the time saved also allows for more preventative healthcare, for instance, personnel have more time to offer dietary advice to parents”, he says.

“Primary healthcare in the low-income countries must become more efficient. Care personnel out in the field are forced to spend what could be valuable patient time on inefficient administration, and we aim to simplify the process,” Nabiev says. “We want to save more lives.”

Katarina Ahlfort
Photo: Fredrik Persson

Rustam Nabiev’s vision for Shifo’s future activity

“We will need to work closely with organisations such as Sida, WHO and Unicef. Shifo’s e-health solutions do not require extra money for care, just a reallocation of resources, we want governments to see that if the local health provider ensures every child in their area is fully immunised via vaccines, for example, this will pay for itself. As a rough estimate, an investment of one billion dollars would be enough to be able to implement our Smart Paper Technology in every developing country on Earth”, says Rustam Nabiev.

About Shifo

  • Shifo prioritises missions in 63 developing countries with the greatest need for basic care and healthcare. This primarily concerns infant and maternal mortality.
  • The company concentrates on low income countries, with a basic package that makes vital health services accessible to several generations.
  • The basic package includes registration of dietary supplements for disease prevention, vaccinations, growth monitoring, maternal health, prevention, test and treatment against HIV, TB, malaria, and Covid-19, plus childbirth and child welfare services.
  • Shifo is a not-for-profit organisation that uses technology to prevent children in developing countries from dying from preventable diseases.
  • The Shifo vision is “We believe in a day when no mother or child dies or suffers from preventable diseases”.
  • The Shifo website
Belongs to: About KTH
Last changed: Dec 16, 2021