How to give visibility to the work of a black doctor? The question that once intrigued Bahian dentist Arthur Lima, 29, is behind the creation of the social impact startup AfroSaúde, which promotes connection between black patients and health professionals throughout Brazil. The platform now brings together more than a thousand representatives from various areas of health.
Arthur is well aware of the weight of being in a somewhat diverse segment. In a class of more than 60 students, he was one of the few blacks to graduate in dentistry seven years ago. Then he says he was passed over in job selections in favor of white professionals. It was in the public sector that he began to work in spaces with a predominantly black population and realized the need for humanized care for patients who saw themselves represented in it.
An episode during a master’s class he was studying at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) was crucial for Arthur. A colleague asked him to recommend a black professional to assist a patient who had been discriminated against in a consultation. The demand led the dentist to idealize a platform that would address this pain. His partner, journalist Igor Rocha, 35, saw the project as a business opportunity. “It was the possibility of using technology as a tool that could solve a latent problem in society”, says Arthur.
With experience in corporate communication and entrepreneurship, Igor helped shape the idea. “I began to realize that, even though I lived in Salvador, which is the blackest city outside Africa, I had never been seen by a black doctor,” he explains. “I saw that the problem was mine too.”
To grow, AfroSaúde had to face financial barriers. Started in 2019, the startup had an initial investment of BRL 36,000, receiving a first angel investor two years later. One of these barriers came from those who questioned whether the app was promoting racial segregation by focusing on the black community. When answering, Igor returned the reflection. “Do you question why other platforms do not have a black professional? If there is a business, it is because there is a problem to be solved”, he recalls.
The AfroSaúde application currently has 3,200 patients registered for free, who are assisted remotely on the platform itself. Without intermediaries, the user can perform the search, locate a photo of the professional and schedule the appointment.
Everything is recorded in an electronic medical record. The average spend per user is between BRL 90 and BRL 100, with a percentage staying with the platform. Sixty percent of registered professionals are from areas related to mental health.
Registered with AfroSaúde since last year, psychologist Jamile Paranhos, 29, sees the application as a safer environment for those who attend and for those who are attended to. “The cool thing about having a mediating platform is knowing that I have security in my care and so is my patient, because, if anything happens, he will be able to have support from the tool”, she explains.
Even during university training, Jamile had to face the judgment of colleagues for wearing his hair not straightened. They questioned whether, being curly, she would be able to convey credibility. Today, she explains that precisely because she is a black professional, patients seek her work in search of identification with the same pain. “We are occupying more and more places where the majority hitherto was white. Having representation and feeling belonging is important.”
Now, targeting the issue of representativeness in the corporate sector, AfroSaúde is also working in the face-to-face environment. The startup launched the Mental Health Program aimed at companies. The initiative, which offers specific mental health care services, has ground in the Black Founders Fund, from Google for Startups, and in Semente Preta, from the Nubank bank. Both funds focus on Brazilian startups founded or led by black entrepreneurs.
For Arthur, experience with the business should help more professionals feel valued. “We are bringing this solution from our health expertise and diversity precisely to create this customized solution for this group. And this solution can work for different audiences in different places”, he says.