The private healthcare sector in Africa delivers half of the continent’s health services but SME healthcare businesses struggle to attract the finance to improve and expand their services. Ecopharm, a Ugandan pharmacy chain, was no different, until it partnered with XSML.
Africans lack access to decent health services as the region faces a serious shortage of health workers and affordable quality medicines. The region has a ratio of 1.55 health workers (physicians, nurses and midwives) per 1,000 people.
This is significantly below the World Health Organisation's minimum norm of 4.45 health workers per 1,000 people needed to deliver essential health services and achieve universal health coverage.
Ecopharm manages to attract the country's best pharmacists as it's focusing on providing affordable quality medicines, which tend to be imported. Counterfeited medication is a huge problem in Africa. In some markets, almost 90% of antimalarials have been reported as fake. This leads to many deaths that could have been avoided.
Ecopharm’s pharmacies also offer a range of healthcare services, including patient monitoring and screening for chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and obesity.
Since our first working capital loan in 2017, the company, founded in 2008, more than doubled its number of branches. By the end of 2022, it had seventeen pharmacies in and around Kampala and a web shop. The company also has a wholesale department that sells medication to hospitals, NGOs, medical research organizations and other smaller pharmacies in and around the country.
Technical assistance focused on quality improvements
Ecopharm puts a lot of effort into training their staff in product knowledge, customer care skills and best industry practices. Through our Technical Assistance Facility, the pharmacy has been able to implement a sound ESG policy and is on track to get ISO certification by the end of 2023.
The pharmacist has a team of three people that follows up on the execution. We also supported the company in implementing administrative and accounting systems with the appropriate staff training.
“With the financing from XSML we have been able to accelerate our growth,” says Idd Iwumbwe, CEO of Ecopharm. “Through this long-term financing we are able to serve thousands of additional new customers with high quality pharmaceuticals."
Iwumbwe: "We are excited to have in XSML a new long-term partner that is also assisting us in implementing a new IT system to manage our operations more efficiently while we expand further.”
By now, the company is one of the country’s leading pharmacy chains employing 171 staff of whom fifty are specialist pharmacists. It is planning to expand to the more rural areas of the country. The pharmacy chain serves around 1,700 loyal patients per day.
The pharmacies’ quality standards do not go unrecognized by its peers. They have been voted community pharmacy of the year several times by the Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda, the professional body for pharmacies.
XSML has made five investments in Ecopharm, totaling US$ 4.3 million in debt and equity since 2017.