Across sub-Saharan Africa, the pharmacy business is beginning to look fairly different to what it has been for decades: branded pharmacy chains are putting up new, clean outlets at petrol stations, shopping malls and street corners, rolled with big money behind the brands.
This is in steep contrast to how pharmacies in Africa have looked like or even operated – often family-owned and operated businesses with one outlet that struggle to access finance to run the business – but inventory management is really what bogs most of them down. For most of them, it is pretty tasking to ascertain how much stock they require, when to stock a particular product and how to evaluate slow moving or completely redundant products.
At the moment, there’s not enough data to guide pharmacists and entrepreneurs in the sector on how to tackle these challenges. In economies where cash is tight, there are more or fewer products than are needed at a particular time. If it’s the former, they run a risk of selling expired products. If it’s the latter, patients can’t get what they need.
Field Intelligence, a technology-based startup, is digitizing this supply-chain process to help African pharmacies sell better and tackle these challenges.
The company, which started in 2015, was government-focused and tried to tackle the challenges facing the public health supply chain in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja. However, the company later made major shifts and is now a pharmaceutical distributor using technology to reimagine how the value chain works.
CULTIVATING THE DREAM
We sat down with Dr. Ajiffa Labor, the Lead Pharmacist and Director of Shelf Life at Field Intelligence in Nairobi, Kenya to tell us more about this revolutionary firm.
A distinguished and decorated pharmacist Dr. Ajiffa’s career in pharmacy spans over ten years, having worked in retail pharmacy, hospital pharmacy and industrial pharmacy. Before his role at Field Intelligence, he was the Responsible Pharmacist in charge of the regional distribution centre at Imperial Logistics in Nairobi.
Prior to that, Ajiffa worked as an Independent Monitor for the Polio Immunization Campaign at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Sierra Leone for over three years. He later moved on to become a Pharmacist for the Ministry of Health in Kenya for a year.
He was also a Quality Assurance Manager at South African pharmaceutical major Aspen Pharma Group for two years. In addition to his professional career, Ajiffa has been a Volunteer Pharmacist for the CDC at their Tabitha Medical Clinic in Kenya for the past nine years.
“Field was created to help transform the role of technology, business, and supply chain for sustainable, equitable development in Africa with a keen focus on improving healthcare systems,” Dr. Ajjifa narrates.
He tells us the healthtech company uses live practical data to build out sustainable and efficient supply chains to improve healthcare access across Africa. From research in the field, the company has been able to develop systems and tools for health workers to improve the quality of care for patients.
Large health systems, including national and state public health programs, use our proprietary health supply chain management software-as-a-service, Field Supply, to manage everything from forecasting and planning, to logistics and monitoring of the drugs they distribute through hospitals and health clinics
“Field Intelligence works on some of the hardest, most important problems of our age to build products and services that deliver that access in frontier and emerging markets, where it’s hardest fought and has the highest impact,” he informs HealthCare Africa.
The company is helping governments and businesses make good on the promise of healthcare in the fastest-growing parts of the world by making pharmaceutical supply chains radically simple, affordable, and effective by helping providers, from the largest health systems to the smallest drug shops, ensure a new generation can access the care it needs to flourish.
Field’s standout product – Shelf Life – is a next-generation pharma distributor serving a network of retail pharmacies with data-driven planning, fulfilment and finance solutions.
Field Intelligence launched Shelf Life in 2017 as the standalone product to handle this transition. Up until now, they have operations in Nigeria and Nairobi. The product aims to solve the inventory problem across Africa’s US$65 billion pharmaceutical market.
“Shelf Life takes the burden and risk of inventory off the pharmacies. It manages forecasting, quality assurance, fulfillment and inventory management via a subscription service. Pharmacies sell Shelf Life-supplied goods on consignment through a pay-as-you-sell program, avoiding expiry risk and accessing a cheaper alternative to working capital finance,” Dr. Ajiffa explains.
He also added that they project that this model has allowed pharmacies to grow an average of 25% CAGR.
Their other product is Field Supply – a supply chain management SaaS for emerging market health systems. According to Dr Ajjifa, these solutions enable continuity of business in a cost effective and very convenient manner for pharmacies across their network.
BUSINESS NOT AS USUAL
Field is supporting Africa’s small private pharmacies that currently provide 80% frontline care to Africa’s 1.4 billion population by providing technology-enabled tools for data, inventory and access to capital.
The company handles a wide range of pharmaceutical products through its designated pharmacies with each retailing high quality and current treatments for all kinds of diseases.
“When it comes to our most popular categories, antibiotics takes the lead with over 65,000 units sold in just 2020 alone,” he remarks. Antimalarials also represent an outsized proportion of its sales, a reminder that malaria remains a burden still being tackled by patients across Nigeria and the African continent at large. In Africa, it is estimated that at least 200 million people get infected with malaria annually.
The company also notes there has been a growing demand for family planning products. “It’s a clear indication that our member pharmacies remain the cornerstone of access to modern contraception for many.”
Field has recently expanding into Rivers, Edo, Kaduna, Kano, Enugu, Delta and Kwara States in Nigeria, and Eldoret, Mombasa, Kisumu and Naivasha in Kenya. Through this platform, independent and franchise pharmacies can access 1000 unique products, inventory planning, subscription delivery and pay-as-you-sell on the Shelf Life platform.
The expansion by the company has added onto Field Intelligence’s existing 796+ pharmacy membership, which has served over 1.4 million patients to accelerate quality frontline healthcare across Africa.
According to data released by the company for the past financial year, Shelf Life membership subscriptions have increased in the past year, with Nigeria increasing by 47% and 65% in Kenya.
“Nigeria has 4,500 registered pharmacies and over 15,000 drugstores, whilst Kenya has 6,000 registered pharmacies and chemists,” Dr. Labor tells us.
Field looks at a very huge market opportunity, whereby the company estimates that, in its current operating markets, digital health in Nigeria is set to reach a revenue volume of over US$1.3 billion by 2025, with a 22.31% annual growth rate. Similarly, Kenya is on course of a positive trajectory, with a 19.97% annual growth rate, resulting in a market volume of US$649.73 million by 2025.
“In 2020 we experienced our largest leap in growth in pharmacies subscribing to Shelf Life products. We closed 2019 with just over 19,000 subscriptions, and 2020 ended with 67,352 product subscriptions, a whopping 266% increase.”
In 2022 Field Intelligence aims to surpass 2,000 pharmacies and drugstores using Shelf Life and by 2025 the company is targeted to have 12,000 pharmacies in its network, 4 times that of Chinese pharmacy chain GouDam to make it the largest globally.
BRAVING OUT A PANDEMIC WRECKED YEAR
2020 was an unpredictable year. COVID-19 tested healthcare systems and providers worldwide. However, instead of bowing to the monstrous pandemic, Field supported frontline pharmacies and government health programs in humbling and sometimes surprising ways.
“Nothing could have prepared us, or the pharmacies we serve, for the year healthcare providers would experience,” Dr Ajiffa says.
From the products in high demand by patients to the products with the highest subscriptions, Dr Ajiffa recounts that they could not have attempted to make an accurate projection. He notes that the Kenyan Shelf Life business grew 55%, mostly felled by the regression in available finances to fund operations, which turned many pharmacies toward Shelf Life.
“Equally, the high demand for supplements, PPEs, Masks, sanitizers and other pharmaceutical interventions for C0vid-19 really fueled our growth as a company,” Dr Ajiffa says.
Since Covid-19 hit in March 2020, Field supplied and disturbed over 580,000 units of medicines and other essentials, to Shelf Life member pharmacies. Shelf Life covered a total of 2002 unique products spanning 63 product categories. Field Intelligence was able to facilitate the anticipated demand for anti-malaria and contraceptive products, which sold over 87,000 products in these categories.
In addition to that, during the pandemic, there was an unexpected inclination of sales in both Nigeria and Kenya for supplements (45,618 units), cough and cold medicines and PPEs as communities and health workers grew increasingly more conscious of COVID-19 symptoms and preventative measures.
“At Field, our dedication to making healthcare more accessible goes beyond the work we do with Shelf Life. Large health systems, including national and state public health programs, use our proprietary health supply chain management software-as-a-service, Field Supply, to manage everything from forecasting and planning, to logistics and monitoring of the drugs they distribute through hospitals and health clinics.”
In 2020, Nigeria’s National Tuberculosis Control Programme joined the Field Supply platform, along with two more state Maternal & Child Health programs in Nigeria. Field Supply also surpassed an incredible milestone during the year: 135 million pharmaceutical interventions in Africa enabled since its launch in 2016.
The Field team – although still relatively small in size compared to its impact – has added quite a few new additions to the team. The year began with 33 people on the team and ended with 56. The company also launched the Customer Experience team with 3 customer success managers dedicated to ensuring its clients are satisfied and have a smooth experience.
When asked about the future perspectives for the company, Dr. Ajiffa insists that their key focus is to curate the best out of their existing markets in Kenya and Nigeria, ensuring that pharmacies are adequately stocked, with transactions well managed through digital platforms, before looking at other African markets.
The company distinguishes itself from other competitors by working with pharmaceutical manufactures both locally and internationally to provide subscribed pharmacies with relevant and practical stock as well as nurturing entrepreneurship skills in young and newly graduated pharmacists.
Field successfully recently ran a undisclosed amount in Series A funding round to facilitate its operations, grow its business and improve itsofferings and are at the moment, curating a Series B round expected to be ready by 2022.
This feature appeared in the February 2022 issue of HealthCare Africa. You can read this and the entire magazine HERE