As hospitals reduce routine appointments and patients avoid visiting clinics, more and more people are relying on their neighborhood pharmacy for essential medications and basic health services during the COVID-19 pandemic. “[Pharmacies] are the front line of the health system in their communities,” says Michael Moreland, co-founder and CEO of Field Intelligence, a tech-focused pharmaceutical supply chain company operating in Nigeria and Kenya. “In these markets where there is such a tremendous shortage of doctors and formal health care services, these local community pharmacies provide an enormous amount of basic primary and essential care to their communities.”
Relieving a pain point for pharmacies at a critical time
On top of the challenges of running a small business, pharmacies are struggling with the complexity of managing a pharmaceutical supply chain that has been upended during the pandemic. Field Intelligence, an Accion Venture Lab portfolio company, helps pharmacies to manage their inventory using their Shelf Life subscription service. Pharmacists order the medicine and products they need through the platform, and Shelf Life delivers it directly to them. “They save us costs — big ones — because we don’t have to go and pay transport fees to come procure the goods. They bring them right here to the shop,” says Udodirim Agwu, pharmacist and owner of Euness Pharmacy in Abuja.
For Olusegun Osofundiya, pharmacist and owner of Glosevic Pharmacy in Abuja, Shelf Life’s pay-as-you-sell model has relieved many pressures on his business. “Stocking a pharmacy is very expensive really — when you talk about investment opportunity of shelves and everything and when you talk about the drugs themselves. Someone gives you lines of credit, it gives you more options to do other things and relax,” he says.
Using data to increase efficiency and keep prices low
Field Intelligence collects data on the pricing and availability of essential drugs across Africa to secure lower prices for their customers. After data showed that malaria drug prices increase during a particular quarter each year, they were able to anticipate and hedge that price spike for their customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, supply chains were quickly turned upside down, and prices for routine medicines — especially vitamin C and acetaminophen — went through the roof. Using their data capabilities, Field Intelligence has been able to stabilize prices for their pharmacy customers and continue supplying them with the medicine and products that they wouldn’t be able to procure on their own during this period of unprecedented demand.
Since the pandemic began, Michael notes that pharmaceutical prices in East and West Africa have “increase[d] at a rate that is really unprecedented since we’ve been measuring for the last three or four years. Some of the most essential products that we sell have jumped some four standard deviations in the last quarter, the average increase between 5 and 11 percent — and for drugs that patients with chronic conditions count on. That kind of volatility — that kind of sudden shock — is never a good thing. But it’s come at a time when household income has collapsed.” When possible, Field Intelligence recommends more affordable and widely available product substitutions so that their clients can stock alternative medications for their patients.
Many small, privately-owned pharmacies already struggled to stock their shelves properly, and the pandemic has added significant challenges. Shelf Life relieves the burden of managing the complicated pharmaceutical supply chain so they can focus on providing health services in their communities. Hear more about how Field Intelligence’s response to the pandemic on Michael Moreland’s episode of VentureKast: Rebuild.