In 2018 (operating at Impact for Health) we began investigating innovations in product distribution emerging in sub-Saharan Africa. We surfaced 58 companies in four geographies working to scale technology-enabled innovations in the movement of products to providers, to consumers and in the use of product information. By tracking a set of the most relevant innovators, we provided the first market-wide descriptions of the companies, trends and potential health impacts. Findings were featured in Devex, Stanford Social Innovation Review, through publications and events by the Center for Global Development and more. We have found:
– Innovators are offering 3 types of services: 1) attempting to disrupt the movement of products to providers, 2) changing the way products are distributed and dispensed to consumers, and 3) offering innovations in the use of product information.
– Technology-enabled distribution to providers could significantly change the way products move to hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and drug shops, while improving visibility, reducing prices and improving availability.
– The potential for e-commerce direct-to-consumer services to impact coverage of priority health products is not yet clear, but could be bolstered through increased investments and strategic partnerships with insurers, donors and governments.
– Traditional categories of health information are blending as product-focused innovators begin to expand their offerings.
– While many innovations are small, young and self-financed, in recent months new investment is financing being committed. New financing appears to be concentrated in a few companies, and grant financing seems to play a limited role.
Today interest in online product marketplaces, data-driven vendor-managed inventory services, distributed mechanisms for quality assurance, accessible e-commerce, direct-to-consumer delivery, and more is common. However, understanding of and engagement with these local businesses remains somewhat limited. Organizations still struggle to track the space and deploy the small grants or very early-stage impact investment that innovators require. Unfortunately, the financing committed appears tightly concentrated among a few companies who boast strong relationships to the US, while promising local founders and female founders struggle to establish partnerships that can help accelerate their impact and growth. Support to develop a competitive ecosystem of promising innovations is still lacking.
With the continued support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, across Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, and Uganda, we’ll be developing annual reports to describe the market (number of companies, typology of companies, scale of companies, potential for impact, more), highlight longitudinal trends, and feature “deep dives” in particular content areas by geography, or in topic areas such as financing, quality assurance, more. We’re hoping to help improve the scale and public health impact of high-potential innovators and simultaneously ‘flip the script’ to generate a robust global conversation on the potential for Africa-based health tech, that is co-led by experts in the markets of interest. Stay tuned as we’ll be hiring for these roles shortly.
If you have questions about this work, areas that you feel we should be tracking, or ways that we can craft our analyses to inform your work, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
New technology, better use of data, and entrepreneurial passion in improving distribution channels is reaching a critical mass with the potential to drive extraordinary improvements in availability, affordability, and quality of health products. – Prashant Yadav & Amanda Glassman, Center for Global Development