The pharmacist who works for Africa
Nana K. Mainoo lost a friend in a Ghana hospital because of a lack of access to medicines. The patient needed a medication that the hospital did not have and the family had to go out to look for it. By the time they returned, it was too late.
When a relative of the victim told Nana what had happened, he was distressed. Nana, who is a practicing pharmacist with his own drugstore, knew a colleague whose pharmacy stocked the medicine. In fact, that colleague had complained that the medicine was about to go past its sell-by date because customers were not buying it. Everything came down to a lack of communication between the supply and demand.
In Africa, many pharmacies are scattered about. In some countries, like Nana’s Ghana, the regulations state that there must be at least 400 meters between these outlets, and so often there is some distance to travel. In case of an illness, the following is a likely scenario: “The patient goes to the doctor. If the patient is not admitted to hospital, he or she will receive a prescription. Then things start to become difficult, because the patient has to travel from one pharmacy to another, looking for the medicine,” explains Nana.
The doctor does not know which medicines are available locally and the patients do not know where to find them. Furthermore, the pharmacists are afraid to stock certain drugs in case they are not purchased in time. “Many patients don’t find the medicine they are looking for.” Nana knows these situations well. He speaks calmly, like a seasoned professor lecturing on a delicate subject. “When the patients return, their state of health is often worse. In some cases they might die even before they can return to the hospital.”
Nana studied Pharmacy in Ghana and has managed his own store in recent years. He also studied at business schools in Europe, including IE, which gave him the confidence he needed to start up the MedsFindr project. This is a mobile application for the location of medicines.
“When a patient receives a prescription, he or she just enters the name of the medication and MedsFindr tells them the name of the nearest pharmacy that has it,” says Nana. Doctors can also use it to check that they are not prescribing a drug that is impossible to find.
Although Nana had been toying with the idea for a few years, about nine months ago he started developing MedsFindr intensively; for the last three months he has been working exclusively on this project together with his partner, Robbert Jan Deusing, who runs the technical side of things.
There are still many hurdles ahead. There is much work to do with the pharmaceutical companies, and a related challenge: fake medicines. MedsFindr is trying to get drug companies to put barcodes on their packets so that patients can check them by scanning the code through their mobiles. This is an approach that will contribute to mitigating one of society’s headaches, a problem that the authorities have not been able to control. In order to do it, volunteers are needed in Africa and workers elsewhere, to “spread the word”.
When talking about IE, Nana highlights the faculty and the atmosphere. “I was in a class with twenty different nationalities. It was a very interesting mix.” His time at IE left him with something else. “I love Madrid! It has become my second city.” Roots, however, are roots. “I have a strong feeling for my country, and for Africa as a continent. I believe that we have an opportunity to grow. Perhaps the youngest generation will have this opportunity.”
Interview by Pablo G. Bejerano