As a Purchasing and Supply Management (PSM) Officer, when Chukwunonso Umeh began his search for a supplier who could provide some of the vital commodities needed for a project he was working on, an organization ticked all his boxes. . Her project is helping to accelerate nutrition outcomes in Nigeria and aims to increase the utilization of cost-effective, quality nutrition services for pregnant and lactating women, adolescent girls and children under five. His organization, Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) is implementing a component of the project in 18 local government areas in Kano State.
Their intervention requires the delivery of medicines and health products such as micronutrient powders, iron-folic acid, malaria drugs, zinc/oral rehydration solutions, vitamin A supplements and worm drugs. . Beyond the timely administration of these drugs, it was important to ensure that they were of good quality while offering the best value for money. It’s a problem that Drugstoc, a cloud-based platform that gives healthcare providers easy access to pharmaceutical and healthcare products, was created to solve.
Fighting fragmentation and quality
Nigeria is heavily dependent on imports of imported pharmaceuticals. The sustained underinvestment in building the scientific research architecture that would have enabled the country to have a more thriving pharmaceutical industry has not been prioritized. Imports of pharmaceuticals into Nigeria reached an estimated $1.56 billion in 2020. The industry, however, faces multiple challenges, ranging from the circulation of counterfeit and substandard drugs to poor supply and distribution mechanisms. broken and fragmented. The consequences of these challenges are preventable deaths. A 2017 study by the World Health Organization found that around 1 in 10 medical products circulating in low- and middle-income countries are either substandard or falsified.
As countries still strive to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC), substandard medicines will hinder their progress as quality is an important pillar of UHC. When these drugs enter the global supply chain, the result is socioeconomic loss and health damage, disease prevalence, antimicrobial resistance, wastage of resources, and increased out-of-pocket expenditure on treatments. medical conditions, the WHO said. This prompted the WHO to adopt resolution WHA 65.19 in 2012 to establish a mechanism for Member States to address substandard and falsified medical products. But beyond a global push to address this problem, local private sector-led institutions like DrugStoc are also tackling it in innovative ways.
Take advantage of technology
For DrugStoc, this goes beyond ensuring that end users get quality drugs. The big problem they set out to solve is the fragmentation of the pharmaceutical sector which directly affects the supply chain ecosystem, said Chibuzo Opara, CEO and co-founder of DrugStoc. Fragmentation leads to three key challenges:
- Drug quality issues due to import of counterfeit and substandard drugs.
- Pricing Issues: Due to multiple intermediaries involved, product prices can be 100-200% higher than normal depending on where you buy.
- Access issues where patients and healthcare providers struggle to access life-saving medicines.
According to Opara, “this fragmentation is such that manufacturers upstream of the supply chain communicate poorly with the last mile. This means that the products circulate between several intermediaries and that the safety of the product cannot be guaranteed”. And given that pharmaceuticals such as heat-labile maternal medicines lose their potency when not handled in the right conditions, it becomes even more important to ensure that the supply chain is transparent, from the point of production to the patient. When that doesn’t happen, “at best the drug does not work when given to the patient, but at worst you will be giving the patient a poison“, Opara said. The situation is also complicated by people who go out of their way to produce and introduce counterfeit drugs into the supply chain, Opara added.
With DrugStoc, all a healthcare provider or pharmacy needs to do is visit the online store, create an account if they are a first time user, access the wide range of medicines, place an order and wait for delivery. All this can also happen through a mobile application available on Play Store and Apple Stores.
But it didn’t all start that way, Opara said. He met its now co-founder and co-CEO, Adham Yehia, at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. As health facility managers, they encountered problems related to delays in pharmaceutical supply, fluctuating prices and uncertainty of quality when dealing with multiple variants of a product. So their biggest issues were how to ensure product availability, make sure they are cost effective and of the best quality. Thus, DrugStoc was created to address these issues. Opara said they initially started with Excel sheets before moving to a fully online platform. Now, they allow healthcare providers direct access to quality medicines, including hard-to-reach products.
Prioritize customer needs
CHAI represents just one of the more than 3,000 healthcare facilities and organizations that DrugStoc has worked with. According to Umeh, “DrugStoc’s commitment saves me the headache of sourcing the required product. It’s their job. Just that I will pay a premium for their services and they will still deliver the goods to me”. He doesn’t mind paying extra for their services to make sure he gets what he pays for. For him, the platform is like Jumia or Amazon, except it’s for health products. Like these online shops, he just logs into the platform, makes his choice based on specifications, quality and price. Once he has paid, the products will be delivered to him. However, sometimes they can be slow to get the required product during the procurement process. “I think if they can build a pool of suppliers across different brands and SKUs, it will shorten their response time if the need arises,” he said.
Being a logistics and supply chain specialist himself, Umeh said the team needed to standardize their delivery process as most of their delivery is done through regular couriers who may not be familiar with not be the implications of improper handling of the goods. “Some products arrived in torn boxes which shows they paid no attention to the risk of the product losing its potency in the process,” he added.
But dealing with these types of issues requires being attentive to customer needs and constantly auditing their quality management processes. This has led to the achievement of ISO 9001:2015 certification, which means, among other things, that they have demonstrated their ability to consistently provide products and services that meet customers and applicable legal and regulatory requirements. . “The most important person in the ecosystem is the customer,” said Opara thus, “It’s important that we continue to focus on what the customer wants because you sustain your business by continually delighting customers..”
Not a walk in the park
Basic social amenities such as good road networks and uninterrupted power supply are still lacking in most Nigerian states, posing infrastructural challenges for DrugStoc’s operations, Opara said. Also, the lack of access to finance from some hospitals or pharmacies is another challenge, but they have launched a credit financing product – DrugStoc Credit – to address this. Direct payment for health care is also another challenge, as it leads patients to value cost more than quality.
But despite these challenges, DrugStoc’s work is essential in supporting the government’s efforts to ensure that every Nigerian, no matter who they are or where they live, has access to medicines that can achieve the purpose for which they have been products: saving lives.