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May 31, 2018

Fighting counterfeit medicines in Nigeria with an online platform

By ITU News

ITU News recently caught up with Temitope Awosika, co-founder of the Nigeria-based health startup, Medsaf, at the Seedstars Summit in Lausanne, Switzerland, where Medsaf won the award for the Best Woman Entrepreneur Prize. In 2017, Medsaf won an award for the Greatest Social Impact at the ITU Telecom World Awards.  This interview has been edited for length.

1. Can you tell us about Medsaf?

Medsaf is a medication platform where pharmacies purchase and manage their medication needs.

In the West African region there is a huge, chaotic, fragmented process in drug distribution. And because of that, there is a lot of entry of fake and substandard medication which obviously affects the end-user. People are dying from taking fake or substandard drugs.

“The private sector, the entrepreneurs and the startups are driving change [in Nigeria], and the government as well realizes that they have no other choice than to follow this pattern.”

We looked at the process and we analysed it for a year and we said, what is the real problem? And we realized the problem is the distribution chain.

So what did we do to solve that? We built a platform where we link manufacturers directly to hospitals and pharmacies. We have aggregated manufacturers that we vetted in terms of quality and consistency, and we have aggregated hospitals and pharmacies, and we have given them a platform to be able to purchase and manage the medications.

  1. What made you passionate about this problem and finding the solution?

I am a pharmacist by profession. I grew up in the UK. I worked in the UK in community and hospital pharmacy, and then I went to Nigeria for an internship. I did not plan on staying. I was thinking, ‘let me go back to my home country and find out what pharmacy is like there’. And I saw there were a lot of issues with being able to get medication.

I remember one particular incident that really hurt my feelings. I was the hospital pharmacist, there was surgery going on and the patient had an allergic reaction to the anesthesia. All you need is one medication to block the effects of the anesthesia but I could not find it. There was nothing I could do, no way for me to find it. I could not google it and find a platform or find a distributor that had it.

And that is when I realized that in terms of transparency, for people knowing where to go, for their medication needs there is nothing. So when I met my co-founder and she had recently lost a friend from taking a fake malaria pill, it was a no-brainer. We knew this was a situation we had to attack.

  1. How much uptake has your platform received?

We have been operational now for over a year. We have over 400 hospitals and pharmacies signed onto our platform. There is a wide target market.

And for me, every little change is change. If I save one life, that is a life.

So we are really happy because we know that for every hospital or pharmacy that purchases medication from Medsaf, the end user is getting real or quality medicines. And that is all we can hope for.

  1. Can you tell me about the challenges in setting up this solution?

There were a lot of challenges. Every one said we could not do it.

There was a time when people said mobile phones would never work in Africa. But the mobile phone penetration in Nigeria now is ridiculous.

It’s just the fact that people think that other people will be resistant to thinking in a different way. And most mindsets, the same way they are made is the same way they can be changed. We refused to listen to, ‘this is not possible, hospitals and pharmacies will not go online to order their medications’.

But the reality is, change is coming in general.

  1. What change are you seeing in this area in Nigeria?

In the area of health care, there is definitely a lot of change. There are hospitals springing up, speciality centres springing up.

People talk about health more. There was a time when infertility was a faux-pas. You could not say that. There are infertility centres springing up everywhere in Lagos. This is obviously saying, ‘look it’s ok to talk about these things’.

There is definitely a massive change. The private sector, the entrepreneurs and the startups are driving change, and the government as well realizes that they have no other choice than to follow this pattern.

  1. Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs?

If I speak from my perspective, a lot of people are going to tell you it is not possible. It is going to be hard. A lot of young people in our generation think that doing a startup is fancy. It is not fancy. You are going to be broke. You are going to be hungry. But if you believe in something, and you really want it enough to change, then let that be the reason why you keep going.

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Fighting counterfeit medicines in Nigeria with an online platform

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