2017 was a pivotal year for Elvin Blankson, pharmacist and founder of GoPharma and a winner of the inaugural Sandoz HACk – Healthcare Access Challenge. For those who haven’t read our previous articles on this ‘challenge’ – Sandoz: it’s time to HACk healthcare – Sandoz HACk is a global competition aiming to generate digital solutions from countries across the world that help break down local healthcare access barriers.
Out of nearly 150 ideas from over 30 countries, Elvin’s smartphone app concept impressed the judges to become one of three winners. GoPharma aims to connect trained pharmacists in the city with untrained staff in rural facilities helping people in rural Ghana gain access to modern medical advice.
This innovation has been a long time coming for Elvin, who took his inspiration from his experiences during childhood, to his college education and beyond.
“When I was in school in Ghana, most of the students took part in a project at the end of the year,” explains Elvin. “We would go to rural areas to try and educate people about drug safety, and this is where I saw a lot of poverty and lack of access to services such as healthcare.
“When I finished school, I did a Masters (degree) in Public Health, which taught me to think creatively about how to solve inequalities in healthcare access and how to take on a broader perspective.
“This ‘broader perspective’ came from talking to my friends, especially those who lived outside of my country,” continues Elvin. “They would phone me up and ask me about their prescriptions, symptoms of illnesses they or their family have, and ask how to access medicine.
“This made me realise that if I can do this for people in the UK, the US, and other countries overseas, it must be simpler for me to solve the problem of accessing healthcare in my own country.”
And so, GoPharma was born.
By leveraging Ghana’s high smartphone penetration, Elvin and his GoPharma project is helping people to overcome the time-sensitive matter of dealing with illness. GoPharma aims to support technicians in rural areas to gain advice from trained pharmacists in the city, allowing patients to receive expert advice locally. Without needing to travel long distances, the app enables them to carry on with their everyday lives with little disruption.
Since winning the competition, GoPharma is being piloted via WhatsApp in 16 locations across Ghana. Elvin emphasises that it’s the patients that will really see the benefit.
“Each life that we touch with GoPharma is important because you don’t know who or what that person will become in the future, or who they are now,” he explains. “For example, if a prescription is needed in a rural area, a patient could end up waiting for three months to get information on the medication and where to find it.
“However, if a prescription is needed in an area where GoPharma is active, a picture can be sent to a pharmacist, who can then call one of the wholesalers and within minutes will receive the availability and price of the drug. It doesn’t make sense for people to go through the pain of waiting months for a prescription when that person is already in pain.”
And have there been any lessons learned from the journey so far?
“Piloting the app has enabled us to see the different types of requests being supported and the variation in knowledge across technicians in Ghana,” explains Elvin. “It has highlighted how we can further support and up-skill our technicians so they can provide the best care to their patients, particularly in remote areas.
“Thanks to Sandoz HACk, we have grown from an idea into a reality that is already helping people in rural Ghana gain access to modern medical advice.”
Fiona Cook, Senior Manager, Global Corporate Responsibility Programs at Sandoz, visited Elvin as part of a field visit with Sandoz senior leaders to see how access to healthcare is improving at a local level and to catch-up with him on his journey with GoPharma since winning the competition in March 2017.
“As a pharmaceutical company, we are not always sure where the challenges exist and what they are, and this is why we set up Sandoz HACk,” explains Fiona. “This competition is one of the many ways we’re trying to disrupt the healthcare space, and we’re so proud to support Elvin, who is a great example of someone asking the right questions to solve health access challenges in the developing world, in his community.
“Sandoz HACk will be returning in 2018 and will be inviting global entrepreneurs, creators, and visionaries for social change to come forward with digital solutions that break down local healthcare access barriers.”