Digital supremacy has not only ended with space-technology and communication, but has made its way towards health. In this case, Tanzanian youth have used ingenuity in domesticating seamless digital solutions and in making sure essential health services are simplified.
It is the youth who are now innovating realistic and customized digital solutions that link pharmaceutical suppliers, manufacturers, importers and retailers in one system, to ensure pharmaceutical services are executed proficiently and in an organized manner.
The health sector in Tanzania, a nation with more than 55 million people, whose Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 6.8 per cent in the third quarter (according to Bank of Tanzania Quarterly Bulletin), contributed less to the real GDP with only 0.7 per cent, still, its stakeholders strive to develop different spheres of the sector which is crucial for the nation’s welfare.
According to WHO, and UN Comtrade and Business Monitor, Tanzania’s pharmaceutical market is forecast to grow to almost $700 million by 2021, far higher than 2017 numbers which stood at $450 million.
This was attributed by the government as a positive forecast translated into constant efforts to transform Tanzania into a middle-income economy by 2025.
Hence, in that context, Pharmlinks Tanzania, a startup based in Dar es Salaam has emerged with its tailored system that bridges the gap between pharmaceuticals—and especially retailers who spend time, money and energy finding reliable and authentic pharmaceutical products suppliers.
Since 2012, the Tanzanian government has been eyeing for tangible results come 2025 for having brought to the fold an Integrated Industrial Development Plan, whose objectives include improving the manufacturing sector, increasing its contribution to the GDP, raising revenue after value addition and exporting more goods.
This means the value chain in the industry requires vital improvement—digital improvement, to say the least—to keep up with other healthy competitors in the sub-Saharan region, particularly Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa—with companies producing and exporting products for neighbouring markets.
The pharmaceutical industry in Tanzania is young. According to Dr. Benjamin Yuda of the Ministry of Trade and Investment, the nation has 14 registered domestic pharmaceutical industries, 11 of whom produce human medicines, two veterinary medicines and one facility is manufacturing health devices.
Furthermore, despite Tanzania’s manufacturing sector contribution of almost 7.6 per cent to the real GDP, the country imports 89 per cent of medicines, 100 per cent of medical devices and manufactures only 11 per cent of all pharmaceuticals.
However, there are signs of potential growth that Pharmlinks Tanzania anticipates, in the next coming decade, as the information and communication sector shows signs of significant growth from 1.2 per cent in Q3 2018 to 3.1 per cent in Q3 2019, as more people use digital services today compared to the past decade. This provides a perfect breeding ground for untouched markets in digitizing pharmaceutical services.
Connecting the pharmaceutical dots
Imagine spending more than four hours each time you run out of pharmaceutical goods, in the middle of a high-populated market zone—Kariakoo, Dar es Salaam— seeking to find a reliable supplier to feed your pharmaceutical retail shop (or ADDO shop) with various sorts of pharmaceutical products.
This could pose a serious challenge to a business owner, and so it was a troubling scenario for Frank Arabi’s mother and Pharmlinks co-founder. Frank was only in high-school at the time he germinated the medical retailing solution.
In 2017, Frank won a local competition involving medical students’ innovation towards health solutions. With the help of his co-founder, they spent time learning how to code, and manage their innovation within the right digital standards, which have enabled them to strike crucial partnership with mobile network operators, seed funders and accelerators including Tanzania’s Sahara Accelerator.
Pharmlinks, a web-based pharmaceutical supply chain platform launched in 2018 has been customized based on research Frank executed in the pilot area, Dar es Salaam. Further Frank said that “it provides a list of various pharmaceutical products, suppliers, importers, and manufacturers, with keen details on expiry dates, locations and prices. So, our clients can request delivery of their stock right to their shop doorsteps.”
Further, Frank—who is also a medical student at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences—told The Exchange that “the system offers business analytics and inventory management, and our customers get a chance to cross-check the drugs” .
After a thorough survey which involved almost 40 pharmaceutical outlets in Dar city, Frank and his co-founder created the system, featuring all the analysis extracted from the survey.
“The survey helped us innovate for the real community demand; it made us come up with something authentic, compared to our startups coming into the game with ready-made systems that are hard to adjust. Despite this marker, we are revising the system annually to hit the right spot” he said.
According to Frank, the system has an automated charging section, of which payment can be made via notable mobile wallets, such as Vodacom Tanzania—which has partnered with Pharmlinks.
Pharmlinks charges wholesalers for every order they request up to $1 for packages worth $4 to $21 and with a maximum charging rate of $4 per bigger packages worth about $3400 to $4000.
As the pharmaceutical startup which received almost $2500 of initial funding, with three suppliers and 10 pharmaceutical product retailers, it has attracted crucial and industry requisite attention over the past year.
Pharmlinks was the fourth winner in the East African Health and Scientific conference in May 2019. It also has managed to attract WHO’s attention and was featured in the global online competition named innovation4AMR, bringing home a prize. More than that, it has managed to interconnect with the world’s best brains in the industry.
“The competition has made us get world recognition and learn from other best spheres across Europe and Asia,” Frank said.
According to Frank, Pharmlinks is not just focused on business; it has also embarked on a noble journey to combat counterfeit and sub-standard pharmaceutical products, which according to WHO claim over 100,000 lives in Africa.
The system which is currently operating in Dar es Salaam anticipates joining reliable and verified players in the pharmaceutical industry, to assist the government and other stakeholders curb the flow of counterfeit drugs.
Furthermore, Pharmlinks has been acknowledged by the Tanzania Medicines and Medical Devices Authority (TMDA) and works with the agency closely to provide seamless service to clients.
The startup looks forward to expanding its reach, from the nation’s business centre to other parts of the nation and around other less competitive East African countries, particularly Burundi and South Sudan.