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Chibuzo Opara is the co-founder of DrugStoc, a multi-channel, cloud-based platform with over 7,000 high-quality drugs. In this interview with Odinaka Anudu and Maurice Joseph Ogu at the Hague, the Netherlands, the entrepreneur shares some success stories.
What problem did you set out to solve with DrugStoc?
What we are solving is the fragmented supply chain market: counterfeiting, in-transparent pricing, poor access to credit, and all the issues. When patients go to hospitals, there are no drugs, and the drugs available are fake. So, what we do is to work with the providers to bring them all the good products. It is a very simply solution. You go on our platform, place an order and within 24 hours, we supply you with the products. Currently, we work with over 800 pharmacies and with the Association of General and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria, with over 2000 registered members.
So, you work with manufacturers?
Yes, we work with all the big manufacturers. They have their products on our platforms. Whenever you get your product from our platform, you know that it is not counterfeit. That is the first thing.
Do you do any kind of due diligence to ensure that drugs on your platform meet the expected standards?
Yes, our platform is actually ISO certified. We are ISO 9001-2015- certified for quality management services. Whenever you come on our platform, all the processes are consistent. At DrugStoc, one of our biggest things is how to ensure that we empower the healthcare provider to provide the best healthcare services.
Providing services in Nigeria is very tough in any industry. So, you do not want the healthcare provider to be bothering themselves about how to access the supply chain. As you know, the supply chain is very fragmented.
What we do is to streamline the whole area by offering them value in terms of being able to get access to quality drugs.
From our platform, we manage your entire invoicing, and we manage your entire products. You can go into history, you can find out. We use the artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology to make sure we provide more futuristic services.
This is to prevent you from losing money on obsolete drugs as a hospital or pharmacy. We try to reduce the money you spend on drugs while ensuring that drugs are always available. So, we are currently doing that.
So far, how has the reception been?
We cover a few states in South West. So far, our growth has been tremendous. The industry has received us in a very humbling way. When we started, we had no idea that it would grow at this scale.
Just to give you a practical example. The amount of prescriptions through hospitals and pharmaceuticals that we serviced in the first three months of this year is what we did last year. So, that is how phenomenal the growth has been. We are constantly employing and growing.
Is there a way of measuring the impacts you have made on these states?
We measure our impacts in a couple of ways. First of all, when we started about five years ago, there was almost nobody in that space. Now, there are so many people in the space. There are so many people taking interest from other companies, government, international players. Pharmaceutical industry is actually changing. You see regulations coming in; you see something like Save Medicine Foundations. Now, everybody is aware that these things need to happen. Before, it was like the industry had a secret. People were saying NAFDAC was doing great work, but still there were a lot of gaps. Since we came, the industry has started changing. Now, people are beginning to recognise the pharmacists and hospitals, and our partners are beginning to work with us in quality. So, the market is beginning to differentiate itself.
Tell us about pricing? Are your drugs affordable?
Yes, they are. Because we do huge volumes, we have very good prices. We have one of the best prices in the market.
Who are your patrons, majorly?
Hospitals and pharmacies, typically. Healthcare market is a human related industry. As you know, we have a huge population of people in the country that want to have good healthcare system. It is one of the markets you cannot charge premium prices, so you have to provide value. We came on and said, ‘No, this is a professional thing and we would do it professionally, but we would use market base approach to bring in that professionalism’.
We have got all the platforms stabilised, so professionals are able to say, ‘you can go there, the prices are consistent.’ We were able to stabilise prices for a very long time based on financial mechanisms that we use, based on the banks and financial institutions that we partner with. So, even when dollar is going up and down, we are able to provide stable prices to our clients.
Do you have plans for expansion?
Yes, we do. We are actually running a programme with a company called Niger Care. It is one of the organisations spotted by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The organisation provides access to a lot of Nigerians because 60 per cent of the population of the country go to them. So, we work with them. One of the interesting things we have been doing is trying to provide them with good purchases and services. The PPMBs are about 20,000 officially and about 200,000 unofficially. So, through that part of the market, we are reaching out.
You are a medical doctor. What motivated you to go into this business?
Two things. One was personal and other, professional. I suffered a family crisis related to pharmaceuticals. A family member could not get the drug he wanted. This was not to say that the people who were in the medical sector could not give him what he wanted. He was a professor in medicine. At the time, he came from a family of several medical doctors. It was not like it was lack of access, but just that the drug was not there. And this was like a common type of drug. So, it was like, what was going on? If this could happen to someone who was in the system, how much more others? So, that was the personal thing that made me become empathetic. In medicine, you are taught to be empathetic and not sympathetic, otherwise your emotions will disturb you. That made me more personally affected. So, after that, I started to look at medicine differently.
On a professional level, I had left to equip myself with tools and knowledge and wanted to come back and change all these. By the time I got back, I had started to work on a few healthcare facilities and just found out that sourcing drugs was just a big problem. I did a few things by placing a simple tool and found out that we needed an impact and decided to keep doing that.
When I was sourcing for drugs, if you asked me the difference between this and that drug, I might probably not be able to give you the assurance that the drugs might not be fake. So, it was ridiculous. This is not how it should be. So, we all decided to start.
How many co-founders?
We are just two.
You deal with drugs. Some Nigerians think that locally manufactured drugs are not good enough. Is that true?
Categorically speaking, that is not the case. But I do have to say that there are still a lot of challenges with pharmaceutical manufacturing, not just in Nigeria but all over the world. It is a very sensitive industry. There are lots of regulations around manufacturing of drugs. NAFDAC is very strict, actually, very strict. In fact, I would say we need fewer regulations there, not more regulations. This is because the people who are in the limelight are over- regulated. So, it is the people who are not in the limelight who get to do whatever.
Few months ago, there was someone in the news who was manufacturing something, somewhere in Lagos without permission. That is the problem. The problem is not the professionals.