How mPharma is revolutioning access to medicine in Africa?

Anand Laishram *

This week we will be learning about mPharma, a revolutionary company that is making medicines affordable and accessible for patients in multiple African countries. mPharma has received the prestigious Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and has been listed as among the most innovative companies in the world. It seeks to address the problems of medicine shortage and unaffordability.

Medicines account for 20-60 percent of total spending on healthcare in lower to middle income countries. 90 percent of this paid for out of pocket, which makes it difficult for many patients in purchasing the medicines they require.

Exacerbating this is the fact that non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer are on the rise in Africa. These diseases require patients to be put on drug courses, meaning they need to purchase medicines for a certain period of time as a part of the treatment process. Supply chain problems further add to the difficulties patients face.

Middlemen pad the prices, increasing the margin by a significant percentage. Patients in Africa may pay 3 times as much as what patients in Western countries pay, for the same medicines. Inefficiency in the healthcare delivery system is another major issue. Doctors still mostly rely on writing prescriptions on papers. They also have to make phone calls to pharmacies, to find out where the desired medicine may be available.

Pharmacies often are out of stock for various important medicines. Patients not only have to spend a significant percentage of their incomes on medicines (and in many cases, they aren’t able to afford the full course of medication), but they may also have to spend a lot of time searching for pharmacies which stock the particular medicine they seek.

They also have to deal with medicine shortages. All these factors work together to make life very hard for patients. mPharma seeks to solve these issues by leveraging technology and data.

Founded in 2013 by entrepreneur Gregory Rockson, a Ghana native, mPharma’s vision is to ensure that medicines are made accessible and affordable for everyone in Africa. mPharma seeks to address the issues faced by all the stakeholders (patients, doctors, pharmacies, manufacturers, governments) through their multiple offerings.

First, it has created a network which includes over hundreds of pharmacies and hospitals. mPharma buys medicines on the behalf of its network, in bulk, from manufacturers, at discounted rates. Since mPharma can aggregate the demand and place orders on the behalf of its network of pharmacies and hospitals, they are able to negotiate for greater price reductions, than if the pharmacies and hospitals had to negotiate with the manufacturers individually.

The savings are passed on to the pharmacies and ultimately to the patients. mPharma stocks the shelves of the pharmacies in its network. Pharmacies are supplied with the drugs they need, thereby helping them avoid inventory costs.

mPharma analyses the data from its network of pharmacies, in order to understand their demand patterns, which helps mPharma in distributing the medicines efficiently, according to demand.

Second, mPharma has created intelligent product offerings to serve the needs of its stakeholders. For the doctors, they offer mClinic. And for the pharmacists, they offer mPharmacy. Doctors are able to provide prescriptions to patients electronically. Through mClinic, doctors can check in real-time which pharmacy in the mPharma network carries the particular medicines they want to prescribe the patients.

Doctors can check the drug availability of the pharmacies which are members of the network and send the patients to a particular pharmacy, which will be adequately stocked. Through mPharmacy, the pharmacy also receives the prescription code for the patient, from the doctor. This way they can send a confirmation to the doctor, when the patient has picked up the prescribed medicines.

mPharma’sofferings also allow for instant communication and messaging, among the doctors, the pharmacies and the patients, through a chat function. The doctors can also keep track of the patients’ information and prescription history through mClinic. In the case of the pharmacists,mPharmacy allows them to place automated purchase orders when a particular medicine is running low.

mPharma then buys the medicines from manufacturers and distributes them to the pharmacy. mPharma’s mClinic and mPharmacy offerings make it seamless and easy for doctors and pharmacists to ensure that the patients get the medicines they want.

For the manufacturers, mPharma’s data collection allows them to understand the demand on a deeper level, thus allowing them to meet the demand for accurately, avoiding overstocking or understocking a particular medicine. They can track the places where the demand outpaces the supply (and vice versa).

mPharma also uses the data collected from its network, to develop disease prevalence profiles for particular regions, neighbourhoods and demographic groups, which are of immense value for the Health Ministry of the particular country. This wouldn’t have been possible if mPharma didn’t analyze the aggregated data from its network of pharmacies and hospitals.

For the end patients, mPharma has the Mutti easy payment system. Mutti allows patients to pay for their full medication course in instalments, rather than pay for the entire course up front. Patients can get their Mutti cards for free and they can also access the Mutti digital wallet.

In many cases, since patients aren’t able to afford it, they only pay for a portion of the entire medication course, which renders the treatment ineffective. By allowing patients to purchase the entire course, and pay for it in instalments, rather than upfront, mPharma makes it easier for the patients to get the medicines they want and realize the full efficacy of the treatment.

Other mPharma offerings include:

- My Mutti (, an online e-commerce store for patients to purchase medicines.
- QualityRX, mPharma’s tech-enabled conversion franchising solution. Essentially pharmacies which opt for QualityRX get refurbished by mPharma with contemporary décor and signage. This helps the pharmacy become more positively perceived by patients and customers, which ultimately helps the pharmacy achieve higher revenues and customer satisfaction.
- Facility Insights, which helps pharmacies make better operational decisions based on data, such as product performance by month, customer retention, sales & profit records etc.
- Last Mile Delivery, which helps distributors with efficient vehicle allotment and monitoring of driver delivery patterns.
- Mutti Doctor, mPharma’s virtual doctor consultation program. Patients go to a pharmacy, that is part of the mPharma network. There they can consult with the doctor virtually, in the presence of a licensed community health nurse. With the help of an all-in-one stethoscope, otoscope, thermometer and examination camera (operated by the nurse), doctors can perform a series of medical exams remotely. The doctors can also ask the nurse to perform a series of Rapid Diagnostics Tests.

This helps the doctors and patients save a lot of time and eases a lot of pressure on the healthcare system. In Africa, where the doctor to patient ratio is highly skewed (meaning there are few doctors to attend to a large number of patients), this is of immense value.

Over 8000 virtual consultations have been performed so far. mPharma is steadily on its way to realizing its dream of an entire continent of Africa in good health.

By leveraging cutting edge technology and data analytics, mPharma has been able to solve the issues faced by multiple stakeholders in the healthcare system, with the end result that over 2 million patients have been able to buy the medicines they require at affordable prices and achieve better health outcomes.

* Anand Laishram wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on 06 September 2022

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