Drugstoc is a health-tech startup that provides a procurement platform for hospitals and pharmacies to source all medications, consumables, and small medical equipment. Founded in 2017 by Chibuzor Opara and Adham Yehia, the startup has a goal to solve the supply chain gap in Nigeria’s medical sector.
In November, the company secured $4.4m in a Series A funding round to scale its efforts in Nigeria. The Series A funding round was led by Africa HealthCare Master Fund (AAIC) with participation from Vested World, a repeat investor and the German Development Bank (DEG).
We spoke with Adham Yehia, who shares his vision for the Nigerian Medical Sector.
How did Drugstoc come about? What’s your story?
I was raised in a family of doctors and because of that, I was always around the hospital. I started managing the hospital very early in my career, as soon as I was done with my bachelors at 19 years, I came back to Nigeria and took on an administrative role at the hospital. There were two things that stood out as pivotal problems that affected health provision. Most health providers deal with a high staff attrition rate due to Nigeria’s brain drain. Many doctors and physicians prefer to seek foreign opportunities because of significantly better salaries and career advancement opportunities. Therefore, the country has a massive vacuum of medical talent. Running a hospital made the problem very obvious however it’s not a problem the private sector can solve alone rather it is systemic and needs intervention from the government among other players
The second issue I realized running a hospital was that the accessibility and quality of products available to providers were next to none. We found that the status quo was not acceptable for our facilities (counterfeits, availability, expiry, lack of access to products) and started thinking about how to not just solve this problem for us but for every provider in Nigeria. If any hospital buys drugs from the open market, they run the risk of substandard drugs or counterfeit drugs. You also run the risk of product instability meaning what drug you have available today might not be available next week meaning that you have to change medication for people. This was not acceptable to us. I go to lengths to ensure my doctors and pharmacists are professional and the service delivery is at par with international standards but when you have no control over the quality of medication you prescribe, all that quality service goes out the window.
As we determined to find a solution to this problem, I went to Holland for my Master’s degree. While I was there, I insisted on doing my thesis on the Nigerian Healthcare system which led them to ask me to find an associate professor to review my work because they had little experience in Nigerian healthcare. This led me to Chibuzo Opara who was doing his PhD at the time. Sadly, he had lost a family relative as a result of the same challenges around how facilities purchase medication. Upon speaking to our colleagues that owned pharmacies and hospitals we realized the solution was more needed than we assumed. We started the company in 2017 with the health provider in mind and to ensure that all products available to them come at the right price and the right quality.
Being a Health-tech company in Nigeria must be challenging. How have you been able to remain relevant?
Challenges are part of why we wake up excited every day. We are adamant about solving the access and quality problem until our health worker colleagues have access to everything, they need to give their patients the best of care. We remain relevant to the healthcare provider by offering them access and convenience with the underlying promise of quality. Our goal is to change the narrative for Nigeria in our lifetime. We want all licensed healthcare providers to have access to medical supplies.
We have been building a brand of integrity, trust and quality and this has seen our business grow from supplying 20 facilities to over 3,000 facilities since inception. Most of our clients come via referrals from existing clients and that gives us the zeal to continue to grow this to the rest of the healthcare providers. Being a provider in this part of the world is hard enough as it is and our job is to take one headache off their table and it just happens to be that this headache is a big one faced by all of us.
How are you able to track drugs and ensure there are no compromises from manufacturers to the hospitals and pharmacies?
We were selected for the Stanford University Seed program, which helped us redefine how we looked at medicine, supply chain and finance. We deal with over 400 manufacturers and that list is growing on a daily basis. Through track and trace technology we are able to track on an individual pack level the movement of the item across the system. We only buy from accredited and vetted manufacturers directly and pay a lot of attention to the quality of the product. We are also ISO certified for GDP which ensures that processing and storage conditions adhere to international standards.
What other products or services does Drugstoc offer?
Our main service offering is easy access to thousands of medications with transparent pricing and quick delivery to any facility within our Drugstoc coverage area. Providers can request items via various channels including mobile applications, web portals, direct calls, texts and USSD functionality. If you are a licensed health care provider we are here to support your growth and stamp out substandard and fake items from your facility. We aren’t just a delivery company, we have warehouses and fulfilment centres that are of international standard to store drugs and supply to health providers.
With the $4.4m funding we received from investors, we look to scale our operations to meet the need of pharmacies and hospitals across the country. We have previously only been focused on Lagos but we plan to expand our services to meet more people.
How did Drugstoc survive COVID considering your work requires a supply chain? Did you work remotely?
As challenging as it is we have a mission to empower as many health providers as we can. If we shut down due to COVID then hospitals and pharmacies that work with us will also be affected. We did it with a great team! Even at the height of the pandemic we were processing and delivering thousands of drugs a day. We saw this as our duty and it was therefore not even an option to shut down operations.
We were able to achieve this by adhering to strict protocols including non-contact delivery and having fulfilment staff isolate together to prevent interactions with the outside world. We also delivered health worker protection kits to numerous facilities to also help them protect their staff from infection and shutting down, all for free. We are an essential service and continue to take pride in that.
Health Financing is such an interesting aspect because many Nigerians have little or no access to such services, does Drugstoc have plans to provide such services and how do you think financial institutions can help?
With insurance penetration getting better in the past 2 years, we are optimistic that more Nigerians will not be paying out of pocket for health care services. The advent of telemedicine will also make basic primary care accessible to anyone that needs it for a relatively low cost. Drugstoc is set up in a way to assist pharmacies and hospitals to meet their patients’ needs.
What disruptive innovation are you looking forward to?
We are looking forward to what artificial intelligence and blockchain technology can do to change the narrative of Africa. With the global supply chain issues, blockchain, we believe will create the ability to track and trace products in the supply chain using an efficient framework. It will also provide the ability to validate transactions that cannot be changed or altered.
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