Entrepreneur fills medical supply gap

Entrepreneur fills medical supply gap

After identifying a need to supply medical consumables and disposables to difficult-to-deliver regions and rural communities across Africa, 20-year-old Capetonian Tony McPherson launched McPherson Trading – a tender-based procurement consultancy – to help fill this gap.

Since opening doors in January 2019, the company has serviced countries such as Mali, Malawi, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, and consigned roughly R30 million worth of stock to date.

Infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis (TB) and HIV/Aids have long been some of the world’s biggest killers, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), African countries are still far above the global average in all of these.

Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 93% of malaria-related deaths in the world, while 20,7 million people in East and Southern Africa are living with HIV, with TB accounting for around one in three Aids-related deaths.

Many clinics in rural towns are starved of any sort of medical equipment and supplies needed to treat these diseases.

According to the WHO, low-income countries experience poor availability of essential medicines and equipment in health facilities, substandard treatments, stock unavailability, and suboptimal prescription and use of medicines.

“Africa’s weak supply system has a lot to do with poor procurement practices, lack of storage facilities for pharmaceutical supplies and products, poor transportation systems and inefficient manufacturing capacity,” says McPherson.

“These issues are particularly extreme in hard-to-reach rural areas, where large corporations do not regularly operate, so they do not possess expertise in the logistical struggles encountered in these regions. We have managed to make a big difference over the last two years in getting supplies to rural clinics and relief programmes in a timely manner, with demand increasing. Covid-19 has definitely played a role in this demand as well.”

McPherson Trading specialises in consumables and disposables such as personal protective equipment, needles, syringes, intravenous and arterial lines, sutures, saline and distilled water, wound dressings, and single-use medical equipment.

McPherson believes that it will take a great deal of time and financial investment to reach a consistent level of procurement throughout the continent. He cites obstacles such as bad roads with severe potholes and overgrown vegetation that make it impossible for delivery trucks to reach their destination.

In some landlocked areas, crates of supplies must be delivered by helicopters, which is a costly exercise. “Other challenges I face daily include obtaining specific permits required for different regions – there is a lot of red tape – liaising with customs agents based in foreign countries and overcoming language barriers,” says McPherson.

“It is no easy task to consign freight from all over the world, to be repacked and loaded on the appropriate freight medium, to then consolidate between a number of suppliers and freight intermediaries in countries with sometimes very limited staffing and facility resources.”

The young entrepreneur is also the group CEO of McPherson Holdings, which includes running his late grandfather’s international pharmaceutical company, EmOx Oxygen, the manufacturer of the world’s only emergency powder-based oxygen.

He attributes his success in maximising supply-chain and logistics across Africa to receiving invaluable guidance from his father, who has been involved in cross-border logistics since the age of 24. “I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by a long line of businessmen and women from whom I could learn, which has really equipped me with the knowledge needed to overcome the immense challenges of making this business work,” he says.

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