While Africa’s health system is still recovering from the COVID pandemic effects, some countries have seen an increase in the adoption of digital healthcare services. Telemedicine was the most popular offering and saw a huge adoption. In the past five years, there has been no other service launched by tech startups more than Telemedicine. Read the article about Interview coceo africankeneokafortechcrunch.
But, one segment has seen greater scale in the last year. These startups digitize supply chains and distribute to providers. According to Salient Advisory, a global consulting firm in healthcare, this segment has seen the greatest growth for Africa’s healthcare over the past 12 months.
This segment includes companies that work with community pharmacies as well as lower-end providers like drug shops, to stock products. Some of these include mPharma and Lifestores, Shelf Life, Maisha Meds, and Shelf Life.
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The providers who interact with customers, such as pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals, are seeing the most traction. They can digitize distribution to the consumer. “That’s where we have seen the most traction,” Remi Adeseun (director, Africa at Salient Advisory) told TechCrunch in an exclusive interview.
Salient surveyed more than 80 companies in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria — 25% more than it did in its 2021 report.
These B2B companies have similar models to their retail ecommerce counterparts like Wasoko and TradeDepot. They use tech-enabled solutions for digitizing medicine distribution to underserved hospitals, pharmacies, drug shops and clinics.
According to Salient, this has led to their rapid growth. Lifestores has increased its outlets in Nigeria from 85 to 600 outlets; Maisha Meds has grown from 400 to 900 outlets in Kenya and Nigeria; Shelf Life now has more than 1,630 outlets in Kenya, Nigeria and Nigeria, compared to 400 last year.
According to the report, 36% of all funding received by health supply chain startups was raised within the past 12 months. The segment has yet to report the types of investments made in B2B retail ecommerce over the past two years.
MarketForce and Wasoko, for example, have raised $40 million to $130 million in single rounds. Some of these funds include debt. Except for mPharma which has a network Mutti pharmacies, and has recently raised $35M to expand its telehealth offerings, funding for B2B health tech startups has been very limited.
Companies like Wasoko, and other B2B ecommerce companies involved in FMCG, are raising greater sums. However, we are pointing out that B2B companies are growing at a faster rate than those in health tech. They also raised larger amounts of money over the past four months,” Yomi Kazeem (senior consultant for West Africa at Salient Advisory) says. “And funding in health tech is usually low. We wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t raise large amounts of money yet. However, it is possible that they will grow and change as they do.
Adeseun believes that this might happen if retail-based B2B ecommerce platforms take an interest in health-based and pharmaceutical products. He says that most of these startups are not yet in the FMCG space and it will take them a while to invest in B2B medicines distribution.
Adeseun also mentioned two events that could drive more funding to this segment. We believe that investors will be more interested in scales that match their appetite. There are many startups that operate in one or two countries. Expanding geographical footprints will help you get more funding. The second option is clearer, forward-thinking regulations.
Salient also notes that the regulatory frameworks for this sector, including e-pharmacy, have changed since last year. Online pharmacy regulations were launched in Nigeria, Ghana, and are currently being developed in Kenya and Uganda. According to the report, all online pharmacies must have a physical location licensed by a licensed pharmacist.
Its authors stated that Ghana has gone beyond the enactment of online pharmacy regulations and is embarking on a wider digital transformation in pharmaceutical care through a government-run, centralized e-pharmacy platform to store all online pharmacy transactions throughout the country.
This could improve the availability of product data, and provide visibility to product movements in the online pharmacy space. The platform could expand its scope to include products that are currently distributed offline and provide a model for similar initiatives outside of Ghana once it is fully established.
Research revealed that, while there are many startups, retail pharmacies, and e-commerce players like Jumia, Copia, and others, the number of customers ordering over-the counter products via their online channels was small.
Adeseun stated that some of the incumbent chain pharmacies such as MedPlus or HealthPlus are adopting a digital strategy and adding telemedicine capabilities to their business. This is in response to startups’ innovation. The report said that there is no clear path to multi-national telemedicine scale via these chains.
94% of the companies that were surveyed said they have an effect on medicine supply. 60% of respondents said it was quality while 43% claimed that they had an impact on lowering drug and pharmaceutical prices.
Salient’s last year report highlighted two key points: increased capital from African-based investors and more funding for women-led startups. The former has seen an improvement: 58% of the innovators who raised funds in the past 12 months cited Africa as a source for financing. The situation for women-led startups is not improving as they are still not receiving the funding that they require. The report found that 2% of all funding received by health tech startups was raised by female-led startups led and headed by Black CEOs. They received $1.6 million in 2021.
A consortium of international and continental organizations has been inspired by these findings and is planning to launch a $7million pan-African health technology initiative. Funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Adeseun stated that the initiative, called “Investing in Innovation(I3)”, will be focused on women’s access funding. It will support and fund 60 early- and growth-stage African health supply chains startups over two years and provide access to skill development.
The director stated that women founders are often disadvantaged. “And that’s what the investment in innovation will attempt to address: To take that gendered and disadvantaged African founder lens and prioritize them in selecting potential beneficiaries to the program.”
There will be four hubs for the pan-African initiative in each of the four African countries: east, north and south Africa, as well as west Africa. These startups will have access to markets and be able to showcase their ventures to investors and venture capitalists. Adeseun stated that the expectation is that the initiative will be funded by additional development partners after two years. However, they need proof of success to commit.