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Midlands healthcare exports to Africa

Dr Nik Kotecha OBE, chief executive of Morningside Pharmaceuticals, and one of the Department for International Trade’s Export Champions, talks about the opportunities in Africa for life sciences and healthcare.

In the 30 years since Morningside Pharmaceuticals started doing business in Africa, we have seen some fantastic opportunities and faced some challenges. We started exporting to Africa in the 1990s and have moved on from the days of fax machines and phone calls to emails and websites.

Export growth in antibiotics, oncology drugs and orthopaedic appliances are just some areas where growth continues. In fact, orthopaedic appliance exports to Kenya, which include hearing aids, crutches and prosthetic limbs increased by 204% from 2017 to 2018, and by 485% in the same timeframe to Ethiopia. Meanwhile, antibiotics exports to Ghana increased by 8498.3% in the same period, showing there is demand for British medical technologies and medicines.

In-market expertise

It is now easier than ever to make initial contact in overseas markets. We have worked closely with the Department for International Trade, joining trade missions with other business leaders so that we could meet contacts face-to-face with an expert on hand.

Relationship building is crucial when doing business in Africa, and face-to-face meetings are so important to build trust and find the most appropriate partner or agent to help you navigate the political and cultural sensitivities of different parts of the continent. The value of a business card and good contacts should not be underestimated.

Paperwork, supply chains and money

Ensuring you have the correct documentation for the country you are trading with is essential, and this varies greatly. For example, your products must also be shipped with the correct documents to ensure that they do not get stuck in customs such as pre-shipment inspections and document legalisation.

Getting paid, legal issues including intellectual property, regulations, foreign exchange, transport and logistics are also areas where having a suitable agent can mitigate risks.

Supply chain fragmentation is one issue that came up recently at the UK East Africa Health Summit I attended on May 27. There are often too many intermediaries between the facility where the medicine is manufactured and where it is being dispensed.

Opportunities and development

However, by working to strengthen the supply chains UK businesses can find investment opportunities for. Medicines require secure transportation and a temperature-controlled environment, and adequate transportation and storage are crucial to maintain quality products. There are multiple opportunities for the private sector and UK businesses to invest in the infrastructure around the whole supply chain.

Also discussed at the summit was counterfeit or fake medicines. It is estimated that fake anti-malarials contributed to 116,000 additional deaths a year from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa alone. The private sector has an opportunity to invest in innovations such as 2D barcoding and tamper-evident packaging.

Although it is easier for UK suppliers to export to systems that are modelled on the NHS instead of those that are market-lead, countries such as Kenya and Rwanda reflect a more favourable health system maturity, as emerging systems are currently investing heavily in improving local health services.

With all of these opportunities and continued growth in the healthcare and life sciences sector, there is no better time to export your product to Africa. Although there are certain requirements and considerations that may seem daunting, your mind will certainly be more at ease once you have been on a market visit. If I can do it, you can too.


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