One of Vivian Nwakah’s friends in Lagos, Nigeria, died after having taken a fake anti-malaria drug. His death inspired her to start Medsaf, a tech platform that provides a transparent, affordable and safe method to get medication to hospitals and pharmacies across Nigeria. To Club Africa, the founder of Medsaf reveals that she wants her initiative to serve patients all over the world.
Nwakah grew up in Chicago, USA. Her father left Nigeria in the early 1970s, determined to study in the United States and become a banker. He provided ample opportunity to study for his daughter. She studied in Georgia, Rio de Janeiro and Paris before moving to Lagos to build her career.
Obtaining safe drugs
One thing Nwakah soon found out about the birth country of her parents is that obtaining safe drugs in Nigeria is not easy for people. Most of the drugs needed in Nigeria are either not available or not composed properly. Getting them manufactured and then registered in Nigeria tends to be a serious problem. To change this for good, Vivian Nwakahdecided to set up her company Medsaf with Temitope Awosika, a pharmacist by training.
After the launch of the company in 2017, the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria gave the new company a “good faith” registration. Since then, Medsaf has partnered with more than 500 pharmacies and close to 100 hospitals to sell medication around the country, processing 150 million doses of drugs.
Linking hospitals and medication
Medsaf is a digital medication supply chain management solution, linking hospitals and medication manufacturers from all over the world. The solution was much-needed in Nigeria; shortly after the launch of Medsaf, dozens of hospitals and pharmacies signed up to use the platform and app, that allows stakeholders to see drug information and tracking and tracing details on a smartphone. The company makes money from medication sold through the platforms as well as through inventory management and data subscription services.
Though the company was at first funded primarily out of pocket, investors have embraced the approach of Medsaf, that is clearly closing a gap in Nigeria. Medsaf won the Nigeria round of Seedstars Lagos in 2017 and also won the Greatest Social Impact award of the Global SME Awards at the ITU Telecom Awards 2017 in South Korea.
This leaves Medsaf with one last hurdle that is difficult to overcome. Most Nigerians cannot afford to buy legal drugs. In Lagos, 87 million people live in poverty. The availability of fake drugs is still a huge problem, especially because they are much cheaper. Poor Nigerians will take the risk – a decision some pay for with their life. According to Vivian Nwakah, the situation will not be changed overnight – and making available 100% safe legal drugs in Nigeria is an important first step.
The company currently employs 13 staff, most of them pharmacists. Nwakah and her co-founders have high hopes of taking Medsaf much further. They aim to raise $5 million in capital and expand to 4,000 medical facilities – and to other African countries.
Club Africa: how will Medsaf move on from here?
“Fake and substandard medication is not only a problem in Nigeria, it is present across the continent of Africa as well as other developing nations. We see Medsaf expanding to serve the needs of hospitals and pharmacies across the globe.”
“Medsaf is a technology enabled medication supply chain management solution for hospitals, pharmacies and clinics. In the US for instance, some facilities have long waiting times for certain speciality medications. Insurance agencies often delay the process of approval. Facilities could use our tech platform to bypass these bureaucracy issues and distribute medication to patients in under 48 hours or less.”
What do you need for a next step?
“In addition to the complete acquisition of the Nigerian Market and global emerging markets, we require successful fundraising rounds as well as strong relationships with global manufacturers and powerful healthcare stakeholders to fulfil our vision.”