Start-Ups Are Changing the Face of Health Care in Africa
Access to medicine in Africa and Asia is limited due to many problems, from the high cost of medicines and services to a lack of reliable equipment. But some companies and charities are trying to overcome these difficulties with innovative approaches.
Indian authorities want pregnant women to give birth in clinics, not at home. But due to poor hygiene in health centers, women are at risk of contracting an infection. Therefore, Ayzh has developed and sells an inexpensive “clean delivery kit” to clinics. “People are encouraged to give birth in clinics, but the capacity is not increased, and this primarily affects hygiene,” says Ayzh founder Zubaida Bai. “Our kit helps to change people’s behavior, allowing you to give birth in the right place, and at the right price.”
Ayzh had sales of about $500,000 last year. Bai now plans to expand the business to the East African markets and expand the product line. “We create a brand that spans the entire life cycle,” she says. But for this Ayzh needs to change the business model – to move from direct sales to working through franchises. The company intends to achieve breakeven within four years.
Wholesale purchases of medicines
Africa is not only one of the poorest countries, but also one of the most expensive medicine in the world. This is partly due to inefficient supply chains. Usually, each hospital purchases its own medicines in small and irregular batches. But due to poor inventory management, their drugs may be expiring.
“Our job is to provide affordable medication to African countries. We decided to see how we can make their healthcare better,” says James Thurmond, a founder of Trusted Tablets Pharmacy. The company helps private hospitals and insurance companies save money by purchasing drugs in bulk. James was inspired by the Clinton Foundation’s Health Access Initiative, which has developed similar drug procurement and stock management systems in poor countries.
So far, the pharmacy has focused on medications for diabetes, hypertension and glaucoma. James estimates that his organization has helped reduce health care costs by an average of 30% for about 10,000 patients.
In Zambia, many villagers lack access to over-the-counter drugs, mosquito nets and products such as soap, condoms and sanitary napkins. Therefore, the humanitarian organization CARE International created Live Well. It is a network of 300 local entrepreneurs whom it has trained and to whom it supplies these goods, and they sell them at low prices to about 45,000 buyers a month. Similar systems exist in other African countries and in Bangladesh. “This is a new, more sustainable way to have a social impact, improving people’s health and lives,” says Tom Sessions, Strategic Partnerships Manager at CARE.
Live Well is supported by both local businesses and Barclays Bank, which teaches entrepreneurs the basics of business. Also, the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) provides a range of its products at low prices. GSK has priority delivery rights. But as Sessions notes, Live Well may find a better product or better prices from other suppliers. “If you only work with one company and sell only its products, without resorting to diversification, it is unreliable,” he said.
South African doctor Ian Barton was embarrassed to have to charge high fees to consult patients about simple problems. He was confident that first aid could be made more accessible with the help of trained nurses who would treat at affordable prices for simple diseases in 40 million South Africans without health insurance.
That’s why Barton founded Unjani, which employs over 100 people in 31 clinics. Qualified Nurses who are authorized to distribute drugs charge approximately $14 for treatment, including diagnosis and essential drugs. Unjani has had about 260,000 patients in the past three years, reducing the burden on free government clinics that are under pressure.
“Our government is confident that first aid should be free, but this is unattainable due to lack of resources,” said Linda Tusen, CEO of Unjani. “We just gave patients a choice. If they have money, they can use our services, giving up their places in free clinics to the unemployed. If not, they can continue to use government clinics.”
From a low start
In a 2012 report, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) predicted that the market for health services in sub-Saharan Africa by 2022 will be $25-30 billion investments in tangible assets alone, including hospitals and clinics.
Analysts underestimate the medical needs of the continent, said Farid Fezua, who heads GE Healthcare Africa, General Electric’s (GE) regional medical device division. “When we came to Africa five years ago, people told us: Africa is primarily a place of infectious diseases, and all your equipment is for the detection of non-infectious diseases. But this situation is changing rapidly,” says Fezua.
As living standards rise and, albeit slowly, problems such as HIV infection recede, the number of diseases characteristic of a more developed and wealthy society, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer, increases. According to the forecast of the World Health Organization, by 2030 about 1 million people a year will die from cancer alone in Africa.
In the countries of the continent, urbanization is taking place, the picture of diseases is changing, more and more people are able to pay for medical care or buy medical insurance. Private companies see this as an opportunity for business development.