BLOG: 3 Top Tips for Trading in Africa

Dr Nik Kotecha OBE blog on exporting to Africa

Morningside Pharmaceuticals’ CEO Dr Nik Kotecha OBE is proud to be a Department for International Trade (DIT) Export Champion. Export Champions are experienced professionals who donate their time to help businesses, which are looking to export globally.  

In this blog, written in support of the work of the DIT, Dr Kotecha shares his experiences and advice about doing business in Africa with companies connected to the healthcare and life sciences sector. 

“In the 30 years Morningside Pharmaceuticals has been doing business in Africa, we have seen some fantastic opportunities and faced some challenges. We started exporting to Africa in the 1990s and have moved on from the days of fax machines and phone calls to emails and websites. And export growth in antibiotics, oncology drugs and orthopaedic appliances are just some areas where growth continues.

In fact, orthopaedic appliance exports to Kenya, which include hearing aids, crutches and prosthetic limbs increased by 204% from 2017 to 2018, and by 485% in the same timeframe to Ethiopia. Meanwhile, Antibiotics exports to Ghana increased by 8498.3% in the same period showing there is demand for medical technologies and medicines.

1) In-market expertise

It is now easier than ever to make initial contact in market. We have worked closely with the Department for International Trade, and previously when it was UKTI, joining trade missions with other business people so that we could meet contacts face-to-face with an expert on hand.

Relationship building is crucial when doing business in Africa, and face-to-face meetings are so important to build trust and find the most appropriate partner or agent to help you navigate the political and cultural sensitivities of different parts of the continent. The value of a business card and good contacts should not be underestimated.

2) Paperwork, supply chains and money

Ensuring you have the correct documentation for the country you are trading with is essential, and this varies greatly. Your products must also be shipped with the correct documents to ensure that they do not get stuck in customs. And these requirements differ, some will need pre-shipment inspections, while others have document legalisation.

Getting paid, legal issues including intellectual property, regulations, foreign exchange, transport and logistics are also areas where having a suitable agent can mitigate risks.

Supply chain fragmentation is one issue that came up recently at the UK East Africa Health Summit I attended on May 27. There is often an excessive number of intermediaries between the facility where the medicine is manufactured and the dispensing outlet.

3) Opportunities and development

However, supply chains also offer an investment opportunity to UK businesses. Quality medicines require secure transportation and a temperature-controlled environment, and adequate transportation and storage are crucial to maintain quality products. There are multiple opportunities for the private sector and UK business to invest in the infrastructure around the whole supply chain.

Also discussed at the summit was counterfeit or fake medicines. It is anticipated that fake anti-malarials contributed to 116,000 additional deaths a year from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa alone. The private sector has an opportunity to invest in innovations such as 2D barcoding and tamper-evident packaging.

Although it is easier for UK suppliers to export to systems that are modelled on the NHS instead of those that are market-lead, countries such as Kenya and Rwanda reflect a more favourable health system maturity, as emerging systems are currently investing heavily in improving local health services.

My advice would be to see it, touch it and do it. There is no better time to export your product to Africa as their healthcare and life sciences sectors grow.”

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