Why better data holds the key for improving access to medicines

With the crucial need for affordable and accessible medicines across Africa, data technology is improving distribution efficiency through a network of pharmacies.

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About one third of the world’s population lacks access to essential medicines. In some parts of Africa, that figure rises to nearly half the population. On top of that, about 30 per cent of drugs in Africa are counterfeit, so access to quality-assured medication is even harder. To achieve Sustainable Development Goal 3 – to ensure healthy lives and promote the wellbeing of all people of all ages – we need to tackle these issues, so patients can get the medicines they need at affordable prices.

The pharmaceutical market in Africa is large and fragmented. Many pharmacies face challenges such as sprawling supply chains, low order volumes and high prices. For patients this frequently results in drugs being out of stock, and high prices even when they are available.

One of the solutions is to make medicine supply chains more efficient by using technology and data. A company called mPharma in Ghana is aiming to do just that over the next few years. Its goal is to make quality healthcare affordable and accessible to everyone in Africa, by halving costs while also reducing the risk of counterfeit medicines.

  • who

    mPharma

  • Where

    Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe

  • what

    • Provides services to around one million patients annually
    • Procured and distributed one million Covid-19 testing kits

1 million

mPharma is bringing cheaper and safer medicines to around 1 million patients annually

Working with community pharmacies, it analyses data to combine patient demand figures for medicines more effectively, to help make the supply chain more efficient. This allows it to distribute pharmaceuticals to the mass market at a significantly lower cost than competitors. The company currently operates in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, serving about a million patients every year through over 400 pharmacies. By the end of 2021, with the help of our investment, mPharma anticipates adding another 200 pharmacies to its network, and serving over five million patients.

Of course, the need for affordable and accessible medicines has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. In trying to meet this need, the team identified a lack of lab equipment and testing kits – Ghana had only two testing labs, Nigeria had six and Zambia just one. On discovering this, the company helped turn 26 medical labs in these countries into testing centres. Having rapidly increased the number of tests available, starting in December 2020, mPharma was able to distribute one million testing kits and 150 PCR machines (specialised technology used in the labs) to medical labs in five African countries.

We invested in mPharma as one of the first investments under our Venture Scale-up Programme. The programme invests in early-stage companies that use technology and innovative business models to achieve transformational impact at scale. 

1 million

mPharma has procured and distributed one million Covid-19 testing kits