Salient Advisory, a healthcare consulting firm, has released a healthcare report calling on donor agencies, governments and impact investors to accelerate the impact of African health-tech innovators in supply chain. The report titled, Innovations in Health Product Distribution in Sub-Saharan Africa, was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The report engaged 61 health-tech innovators, half of which are in Kenya and Uganda, including Rocket Health, MYDAWA, Maisha Meds, SASAdoctor and Afya Rekod. Data collected reveals a consistent expansion in the ecosystem of tech-enabled supply chain companies within sub-Saharan Africa, primarily driven by companies in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria.

The findings from the study further show a more than 100% increase in technology-enabled business models since 2018, as these companies work to change how healthcare products are distributed. Of all the companies surveyed, 53% reported hoping to support the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines by providing trusted information, track-and-trace services, supporting last-mile delivery and aiding in vaccine administration.

According to the survey, businesses that pair telemedicine with product delivery are the most common offerings among new entrants, propelled by COVID-19. For the first time, the number of innovators that report operating in both urban and rural areas (49%) surpassed those operating exclusively in urban areas (48%), driving scale, impact and profitability.

As businesses continue to respond to COVID-19, the report has called for more to be done to support, nurture, fund and provide infrastructure access to innovators across Africa.

Salient’s key recommendations for global health actors include

  • Reshaping investment ecosystems to ensure more equitable funding and professionalized support is accessible to high-potential African founders, including female founders and innovators in francophone Africa.
  • Catalyzing partnerships between the innovators, and NGOs, industry and governments to enable the distribution of publicly subsidized products through locally-grown, tech-driven platforms, especially in rural areas.
  • Increasing access to affordable working capital and mechanisms to enable innovators to offer low-cost onward lending to their customers.
  • Reviewing, developing and harmonizing regulations for telemedicine providers and innovators offering digitally enabled direct-to-consumer distribution of medicines.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Malyse Uwase, Senior Consultant at Salient, said, “Cutting-edge tech innovators in East Africa are developing solutions to help transform the delivery of health information, products and services. As innovators support essential health services and the COVID-19 response, partnerships with health actors, governments, donors and regulators will be critical.

Cheikh Oumar Seydi, Director, Africa, at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, also commented, “The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone in Africa, and in response governments, the private sector, donors, and health workers have stepped up. This new survey shows that sub-Saharan African start-ups are keen to do more to support the distribution of essential medicines and vaccines and are already investing in the technology to do so.