“People order drugs on Jumia?”

That was the reaction from the most ardent online shopper I know. She buys running shoes, mom jeans and hair products but doesn’t understand why anyone would buy drugs online. It just doesn’t feel right for her to buy ingestible medicines on the same website she shops for underwear.

But a search under Jumia’s ‘medications & treatments’ tab reveals syrups, nasal sprays, and pain relief capsules. At the bottom of their healthcare page, a blurb assures visitors that products listed on the website are from “various trusted brands that will meet your health needs.” 

Indeed, African e-commerce marketplaces are venturing into the delivery of health care products as part of a strategy to broaden their value to customers. 

These platforms are part of a broader crop of innovators at an interesting intersection of healthcare and logistics on the continent. Going by recent data, this sub-sector has grown over two years. 

At least 61 companies are using tech for health distribution across sub-saharan Africa, a growth of over 100% in the number of active players (28) captured in 2018. That’s according to a report by Salient Advisory, an Africa-focused healthcare consultancy.

These health logistics companies include e-commerce players like Jumia, Copia and Konga, and also core health startups like mPharma, Lifestores Pharmacy, Chekkit and Sproxil. Salient’s report focuses on companies delivering over-the-counter products, hence it does not include LifeBank which specializes in blood and oxygen products.

Most of these companies are in Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Kenya with only 6 spotted in the francophone region. 31% of the companies surveyed were founded within the last two years and 62% operate in a single African country. 

health_products_logistics_africa
Snapshot of innovators in the health products distribution space in Africa. Source: Salient Advisory.

Salient categorizes the landscape of companies into three groups by the type of service they deliver: consumer-facing companies, producer-facing companies and product data companies.

The first group of companies (like Drugstore.ng) deliver over-the-counter and prescription drugs as well as virtual patient care to individuals. Provider-facing ones serve healthcare businesses either by delivering to them, hosting an online marketplace, providing inventory management tools (an example here is Lifestores Pharmacy) and/or offering financing. 

The third group offers data related services like product analytics and drug authenticity verification. An example in this category is Chekkit, a verification technology startup that was recently accepted into Google for Startups accelerator programme for 2021.

Traditional e-commerce platforms like Jumia, Copia and Konga are able to play in the consumer and provider-facing buckets. Because of their presence in multiple African countries, all three companies surpass the combined reach of other direct-to-consumer startups in the health product distribution space.   

“What they are doing can accelerate access to medicines and have an incredible impact on public health,” says Yomi Kazeem, one of the authors of Salient Advisory’s report.

According to Konga’s co-CEO Nick Imudia, the e-commerce company’s plan to deliver health products started shortly after they were acquired by the Zinox Group three years ago.

“We started building warehouses and logistics assets to enable us to reach every local government area in the country,” Imudia says to TechCabal.

Konga.com is a marketplace where pharmaceutical companies can list health products like medicines. Konga delivers orders from those pharmacies to individual consumers. 

But beyond fulfilling orders to individuals, Konga plans to go bigger by working on bulk orders between pharmacies and businesses or government agencies, Imudia says. That will require some investments on infrastructure for cold distribution and ensuring warehouses are of the right temperature. 

Salient Advisory’s report notes that “clear and harmonised regulations” could boost this entry of e-commerce players into the health products distribution space.  

Konga has two  licenses to directly distribute products for drug manufacturers and import drugs from the Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria,  Imudia says. But he clarifies that Konga will not act as a pharmacy by selling drugs directly to consumers – but will rely on its marketplace platform that allows merchants to sell on Konga.com

How big can this new business line be for Konga? Imudia declines to share what health products logistics currently contributes to Konga’s overall business. But he believes it will be “a major part” of Konga’s business in the future.

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Alexander Onukwue | Author

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