Can up and coming healthcare startups in the continent change the way medicine and treatment is administered?
By Gaurav Kulkarni
The Covid-19 pandemic that has gripped the globe since March of 2020 has exposed numerous flaws in healthcare systems across the world. From the USA to Italy to China, the virus put a stress on hospitals, created a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators, and exposed the mismanagement occurring in many hospitals. While the continent of Africa has actually done quite well in combating the coronavirus, these fears seen across the world have prompted interest in finding solutions and investing in ways to support healthcare in the continent. The pandemic has created a new interest in healthtech among investors and venture capitalists that have begun to invest in Africa’s blossoming healthcare startup scene. As of October 2020, digital healthcare startups had raised over $90 million in funding over 39 deals to raise capital. Many across the healthcare and investor platform are looking to the future. The virus has created many new opportunities in digital healthcare: healthcare services that use software to achieve healthcare related tasks. Patients are using these startups to achieve their medical needs rather than relying on outdated government services. Technologies like telemedicine, drug verification, and delivery systems have the potential, in a part of the world where healthcare has historically been lacking, to bridge the gap between African nations and wealthier western states. Currently, Africa has 60% of the world’s HIV/AIDS population, and 90% of the world’s Malaria cases. While improvements have been made with 60% of the continent’s population receiving the measles vaccination and an almost complete eradication of river blindness. One successful example is Medsaf, a Nigerian-based startup created to deal with the issue of fake and counterfeit medicine that has plagued the nation. Medsaf’s business model is based on buying the medicine straight from the manufacturer and delivering it to customers through the startup’s own personalized supply chains. Counterfeit medicine has been an issue in Nigeria and West Africa for a long time with police raids and smuggled medicine becoming the norm. Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration has even recently called on their citizens to take whatever action they can to help combat this epidemic. Medsaf connects hospitals in Nigeria with safe and certified distributors through their online platform. They help hospitals deal with the lack of transparency and honesty that occurs when trying to procure treatments. Currently the startup is working with over 160 hospitals and is in the seed stage of funding with 3.5 million USD raised with more investments to come. Medsaf plans to expand to other countries in West Africa including Kenya as they recognize that the problem is not only limited to Nigeria. Medsaf also spends time on data collection, attempting to analyze the market to see what type of medicine is most needed in what places to help them improve and perfect their supply chains.
While healthtech and healthcare overall are still in the minority of investments made in the African startup scene, it is still important to consider what sort of widespread implications startups like these could face. For years Africa has suffered from mismanagement as it relates to procuring medicine, providing treatment and an overall acceptable level of professional services to its citizens. Countries and international organizations such as the UN have dedicated their efforts to alleviate these issues through volunteer initiatives and monetary support.However, the solution could also come from these promising entrepreneurs who have seen the horrors firsthand and have the tools and drive to fix them. Looking forward, we could see budding startups begin to fill some of the gaps that have been left open by the illegal drug trade. These startups could work together with governments through agreements to jointly combat these issues. As the scene expands more and more, investment interest could prompt the government to take these startups more seriously and include them in their plans to administer healthcare services and provide support to hospitals. Babyl, for example, is another up and coming healthcare startup based in Nigeria that connects patients with doctors over the phone for a small monthly fee that provides subscriptions to the service and access to medication. Babyl currently has an agreement with the Rwandan government to provide phone consultations through call centers in Kigali: the nation’s capital. Currently this agreement has led to 2 million registered users and 3000 daily calls. Through these kinds of partnerships there has been a tenfold increase in people served throughout the continent. Agreements like these could be the solution to begin curbing the healthcare crisis in Africa and providing medical support.
COVID-19 has created a newly found interest in healthcare that could possibly result in a higher standard of medical attention in a continent that historically has been deprived of such services for its citizens. It will be quite interesting to see if these bright young minds in Africa can put a dent in the systemic issues that have been present for centuries in the continent. □
- Image source
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