Digital Health in Africa: Pharmarun at the Africa Health Tech Summit

I recently attended the Africa Health Tech Summit, also known as #AHTS23, which took place from 17th of October 2023 to 19th October 2023. The summit was all about acknowledging and celebrating digital health innovations, exploring new and exciting ways to use technology to improve healthcare in Africa.

Funmilola Aderemi

Connecting Pharmacies for a Healthier Tomorrow: Addressing the Primary Challenge in the Nigerian Pharmaceutical Industry.

Pharmacies are the first point of contact for many Nigerians. They're places where you can get medicine and advice when you're not feeling well. In Nigeria, where not everyone can easily go to big hospitals, pharmacies become even more important. They are often the first place people turn to when they're sick or need some kind of medicine.

The typical Nigerian facing a common health problem such as a cough or fever often doesn't feel the need to visit a large hospital. Instead, they opt to visit a nearby pharmacy. At the pharmacy, the pharmacist can assist them in locating the appropriate medication and provide guidance on its proper usage. This underscores the significant role that pharmacies play within Nigeria's healthcare system.

However, despite the significance of this sector in Nigeria, it grapples with various issues and obstacles that nearly hinder its full utilization.

Challenges of the Nigerian Pharmaceutical Sector

  1. Shortage of Pharmacies

In Nigeria, there's a big problem: we don't have enough pharmacies for the number of people who need them. Imagine you're in a crowd of 100, and there's only one food vendor. That's kind of how it is with pharmacies in Nigeria. We have a population of over 213 million people, but there are only 3,768 registered community pharmacies. That means, on average, there's one pharmacy for every 56,635 people. It's like trying to fit a giant puzzle piece into a small space—it just doesn't work well.

Having too few pharmacies is a big deal for several reasons. First, it means that people in some areas have to travel long distances just to get the medicines they need. That's not only inconvenient but also expensive. Second, it can lead to overcrowding in the pharmacies that do exist, making it harder for pharmacists to give each person the attention they deserve. Lastly, it can lead to delays in getting essential medicines, which can be a matter of life and death in some cases.

  1. Uneven Distribution of Pharmacies

To understand regional disparities, we must first acknowledge the distribution of pharmacies across the country. Nigeria's 3,768 registered community pharmacies are not evenly spread. A significant concentration is observed in bustling urban areas like Lagos State (29%) and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) (12%). This concentration creates what we call a "pharmacy desert" in less urbanized regions.

In regions with few pharmacies, residents often face challenges in accessing essential medications and healthcare advice. This disparity can result in delayed treatment, exacerbation of health conditions, and, in extreme cases, a decreased quality of life.

  1. Pricing Challenge

The cost of medicines in Nigeria often exceeds what is affordable for the majority of our population. To put it in perspective, approximately 90.2% of Nigerians live below the income level of US$2 per day. Even government workers earning a minimum wage of US$1.4 per day find it difficult to afford necessary medications.

Affordability isn't a one-size-fits-all concept; it varies depending on the type of medication, the product brand, and where it's purchased. Here's a practical example:

Imagine a worker needing treatment for an infection. If they choose amoxicillin, they would spend just 0.7 days' wages, which is relatively affordable. However, opting for ceftriaxone injection to treat the same infection would set them back an additional 18.8 days' wages. That's a significant difference in affordability for the same health issue.

What about hypertension. The worker might pay 1.4 days' wages for the lowest priced generic atenolol, making it relatively affordable. However, if they opt for the innovator brand atenolol, they would need 10.2 days' wages. This means the innovator brand atenolol costs a staggering 7.3 times more than the lowest priced generic.

Moreover, the cost of amitriptyline can vary dramatically depending on where it's obtained. A patient might pay up to 650% more for amitriptyline from a private health clinic compared to acquiring it from either a public health facility or a private pharmacy.

  1. Preference For Specific Brands

In Nigeria, there is a notable preference among patients and healthcare professionals for specific brand-name medications. This preference often extends to patients covered by Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs). A prime example of this phenomenon is the widespread preference for products from pharmaceutical giants like GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

However, with recent developments, such as GSK's departure from Nigeria, the availability of these preferred brands has dwindled. This scarcity has given rise to challenges for both patients and healthcare providers who have grown accustomed to relying on specific products.

  1. The Problem of Fake Drugs

Counterfeit and adulterated medications pose a significant risk to public health in Nigeria. These fake drugs not only fail to treat the intended medical conditions but can also lead to severe harm or even death. The presence of fake drugs in the market, including in licensed pharmacies, is a grave concern.

  1. Lack of Basic Amenities

Imagine a pharmacy, where essential medications and health advice are dispensed. Now, picture this pharmacy struggling without reliable access to basic amenities like electricity and running water. This is a reality in many parts of Nigeria.

These infrastructure deficiencies affect not only the storage of certain medications, which require specific environmental conditions but also the overall functionality and reliability of pharmacies.

Solution that Addresses All Challenges

Through strategic partnerships with numerous pharmacies, Pharmarun is on a mission to resolve the primary issues plaguing the Nigerian healthcare system:

1. Shortage of Pharmacies:

Instead of establishing new pharmacies, Pharmarun leverages existing ones to extend its reach. It takes medications to the far-reaching corners of Nigeria where pharmacies are scarce, ensuring that essential healthcare services are accessible to all.

2. Regional Disparities:

Pharmarun's network of partner pharmacies spans various regions, effectively bridging the gap between urban and rural areas. It ensures that no matter where you reside, you can access the medications and healthcare services you need.

3. Affordability:

By optimizing the supply chain and sourcing cost-effective generic medications, Pharmarun helps lower the cost of essential drugs. This makes healthcare more affordable for Nigerians living on modest incomes.

4. Generic Medications and Brand Preferences:

Pharmarun educates patients and healthcare professionals about alternative medications. Through its extensive pharmacy network, it offers a wide range of options, making it easier for patients to find suitable alternatives.

Pharmacies across Nigeria can become part of the Pharmarun Pharmacy Network, contributing to a healthier tomorrow for all Nigerians. Click here to join our Pharmacy Network

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