Stories by Moses Nosike
Vivian Nwakah is the founder of Medsaf, a tech-enabled medication supply chain management solution for hospitals and pharmacies. She grew up in Chicago where she started a chain of home healthcare agencies that expanded across the Midwest. Nwakah has travelled several countries of the world before before settling in Nigeria full time. In this interview with Nosike Moses, she revealed how the challenges of widespread fake medication and fake malaria drug killed her friend made her found Medsaf to reduce preventable death and streamline the pharmaceutical industry. Excerpts:
Nigerians would like to know the vision of Medsaf and its focus?
Yes! I spent most of life in Chicago, US and I got the chance to open home healthcare agencies across Illinois and Indiana. That exposed me to the business side of healthcare. Afterwards I entered a business school program where I studied at IAE, Sorbonne in Paris, France, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and J. Mack Robinson College, Georgia Atlanta. I was traveling around the world, thinking about the world with business mindset before connecting back to my roots in Nigeria because I wanted to give back in some way. My parents left Nigeria in the 1970s.
So I came back to Lagos to do an internship and that is how I got here. While doing my internship, a friend of mine died while taking a fake malaria pill and that opened my eyes to see some of the challenges in the Nigerian healthcare system. I felt a calling to help and be a part of the solutions to fix these problems.
How long have you been in this business of healthcare management and the impacts so far?
I started working on this concept about four years ago, trying to understand different ways I can make the concept work. It stemmed from the idea that quality medication is a fundamental human right and it is not fair that anyone should have to worry about receiving poor healthcare. We saw that pharmaceutical distribution was a huge challenge, an area that could be fixed with technology. Two and half years ago, we launched Medsaf as a service provider to hospitals for quality control along with other services like inventory management planning as well as providing them with quality medication at an affordable price. The impact on Nigeria so far has been huge. We brought this idea of quality medication back into spotlight. Our team is going to the hospitals and pharmacies talking about the need to have good quality medications and streamline procurement. We want to ensure that those hospitals working with us have good medications and that imparts on the patient.
Considering the cost of financing healthcare, are you into partnership to actualise this dream?
This concept that quality medication is a fundamental human right speaks to everybody. Everybody knows somebody who has been impacted by medication or the healthcare industry and it touches you and your family. So when we go to hospitals, we tell them what we want to achieve and help them gain access to quality medication at an affordable price. So the pharmaceutical manufacturers would like to do the right thing for the operation by manufacturing quality medication and making sure that it gets to the patients to save lives. For the hospitals, pharmacies and manufacturers, it is always a win-win.
How can you describe health sector in Nigeria?
The Nigerian health sector suffers the same challenges other sectors of the economy suffer. It suffers from silo efforts where you have the people trying to do the right thing all on their own, like an island. There is no collaboration in the system. Everybody tries to do the best they can, but don’t realize collaboration is the key to push the sector to a higher level. There is a billion dollar medical tourism industry of people leaving Nigeria every year getting healthcare elsewhere and many are dying there in China, India, and other places. Whereas Nigeria could be the gold standard of healthcare in the world. If you go to the United States, every single top hospital there is a Nigerian doctor working there. I come from a family of healthcare providers where the whole hospital is Nigerian. Imagine the potential that Nigerians have, to be the smartest, greatest and the most successful in other countries. Yet you come to Nigeria and see a healthcare system where people are running away. Nigeria could be the gold standard of the world and I see the potential for Nigeria. Maybe not in my lifetime, but in my grand-kids lifetime. But I want to spread the word that if everybody works together in partnership, this country could be the best.
It wasn’t the government who created the railroads, it wasn’t the government who created the infrastructure, it was the entrepreneurs of the time. If you look at JP Morgan Chase, he was an entrepreneur and he built and institutionalized and became something that was adopted by the government. So if you look at other countries, if you look at history, there’s a clear indication that the government needs to work with entrepreneurs. Government needs to work with people who are motivated who are building things efficiently fast and effectively and adopt those as policies. So until the government starts to do that it will be difficult to advance. I said because that is if you look at Silicon valley, we have Silicon Valley investors. Silicon Valley was built by the US government. The US government pumped billions of dollars into entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley to create the army technology of the time. Now Silicon Valley start-ups are the Unicorns of the world today. You got Uber in Nigeria, you got Paypal, Facebook, name any company that has taken over the entire world came from Silicon Valley because the US government put the money there. So Nigeria has all the answers, all the resources, all the brilliant minds around the entire world. It’s up to the government to say we’re going to invest money into the people to make this country great again.
Eradicating poverty among Nigerian women…
If I look back in history, women especially in some cultures that pertain to Nigeria, women are the backbone of everything. In the Nigerian family, women are in position of power and women are important to making things work. More importantly women need a chance to fly. If I look at myself, I’m where I am because some people believe in me and gave me a chance to fly without any question, without any strings attached to it. They said, there is a potential in you, the way you think and do things and they invested on me. If you look at your family, can your mum do what your dad is doing, yes she can. Women are powerful, they are running businesses.
Govt needs to invest in manpower, healthcare to develop economy —Medsaf Boss