Have a headache, stomach ache or a fever? You do not need to walk for more than a kilometre to access a licensed pharmacy that will provide you with all the pills and tablets you need to feel better.
For those of us in Accra, Kumasi, Tamale, Takoradi and others cities in the country, access to a licensed pharmacy, pharmacists or a chemical seller is virtually taken for granted.
The iconic Osu Oxford Street, which is just a kilometre long but one of the busiest in the country, has more than four high quality and licensed pharmacies with equally licensed pharmacists serving the ever increasing population virtually 24/7.
Despite the development of infrastructure across the country, not all communities on the outskirts of the cities and in rural areas can boast of the same access to a licensed or quality pharmacy, pharmacists or a chemical seller.
At best, what they get is a quack drugstore where prescriptions are based on pattern or the dealer’s instinct and such capricious decisions have led to unfortunate and avoidable complications and sometimes death among society’s most vulnerable. Sometimes, the drugs prescribed are expired but the lack of knowledge and viable alternatives leaves patients with no choice.
Then enters GoPharma –designed by Elvin Blankson and Priscilla Adu-Darko, who are both consummate pharmaceutical professionals– a digital platform that seeks to revolutionise the way the millions, especially women and children, can access quality pharmacies, pharmacists and even doctors in the parts of the country that are not easily accessible.
Developed as an application that works on any smartphone, the platform seeks to connect pharmacists in the cities and towns with licensed chemical sellers in these deprived communities who usually do not have the full package of medication and expertise to handle patients who visit them on a regular basis with very basic ailments.
GoPharma, in connecting pharmacists in towns with rural pharmacies, to make virtual appointments for advice on how to take medicines, contraindications and others, seeks to bridge the skills gap in rural areas of Ghana, where there is a lack of pharmacists.
The team was a top three winner at the maiden Sandoz Healthcare Access Challenge (HACk), a global competition, launched in 2016, that rewards the most innovative and creative ways of solving health problems and challenges that affect the masses.
The winning ideas all proposed novel ways to use mobile technologies to connect patients with caregivers and essential medicines, addressing access issues specific to their country but with the potential for solutions to be applied elsewhere.
At a press briefing in Accra’s plush five star hotel, the Movenpick Ambassador Hotel, with executives from Sandoz International, Mr. Blankson couldn’t hide his passion for bridging the urban and rural gap.
Based on his six years of work as a pharmacist, were he regularly visit remotes parts of the country, and driven by his own love of mobile technology, he realised that the main problem in the outskirts of the cities is the lack of proper pharmacists.
“Nobody is willing to move to rural areas of Ghana, so patients hardly get to see a professional pharmacist or doctor,” he says, and that led him, with his partner, Ms. Adu-Darko, to develop the platform, which is currently being piloted in the Brong Ahafo Region with the expert assistance coming from the Greater Accra Region.
“We chose Brong Ahafo because, we believe if it works well in such a remote part of the country, it can then work well anywhere. So far we have realised that it is not just patients who need help, but even the over-the-counter chemical sellers, need an education on how to prescribe medication and identify ailments,” he said.
Leveraging instant messaging app, WhatsApp to communicate with participating chemical sellers, Mr. Blankson added that he and his team are identifying and fixing the loopholes ahead of a mega launch. “Before we launch the application nationwide, we will be totally ready. Our website is almost up and running and the application will follow soon,” he said.
A division of the global pharmaceutical giant, Novartis Group, Sandoz, believes that despite all the advances in modern medicine, universal access to healthcare is still arguably the single largest unmet medical need.
Already, more than two billion people still do not have access to the medicines they need and more than 400 million lack access to essential health services. Often these populations are in remote parts of the world. But they can just as easily be in developed countries.
With mobile technology radically altering how care is delivered and received worldwide and the influence of mobile in healthcare likely to continue evolving in the future, Sandoz wants to capitalise on creative minds and the idea of collaborative innovation to help remove barriers to healthcare in underserved populations around the world.
“At Sandoz we believe that the biggest changes often come from amazing, small ideas. Sometimes, the only difference between a good idea and a great idea is a little bit of support. That is where Sandoz HACk comes in – the Healthcare Access Challenge,” Duncan Cantor, Sandoz’s Global Communications executive, said.
The competition began in September 2016 with a call, basically on social media, to young (18-35) creative thinkers to ‘re-imagine healthcare access’ and enter Sandoz HACk.
“Over the course of two months, about 150 ideas from over 30 countries were received and these were narrowed down to six finalists who were invited to come to London in March 2017 to present their ideas to a panel of judges at WIRED Health 2017.
There, the six ideas were narrowed down to three winners from Ghana, the Maldives and the Philippines, each of whom received €20,000 and ongoing mentorship to help make their idea a reality,” he added.
Fiona Cook, Corporate Responsibility Manager, Sandoz, noted that to ensure the finalists were all equally well positioned for success, Sandoz gave them the opportunity to refine their ideas with feedback from OpenIDEO, a global community of creative thinkers, technologists and others interested in helping social entrepreneurs.
“The HACk has a clear objective: to drive access to medicines, medical information and healthcare capacity. It takes a ‘bottom-up’ approach and aims to encourage young people to identify local access-related problems and ‘hack’ them – in other words, to come up with solutions that could have a big impact,” she added.
Looking at the overwhelming success of the maiden Sandoz HACk in terms of ideas pioneered and the ongoing collaborations with the winners, Ms. Cook, assured that this project will continue and become the vehicle to helping solve some of the world’s basic health challenges.
From left to right: Fiona Cook, Duncan Cantor, and Elvin Blankson, explaining a point