Tech start-up lets you transfer your unused medicine

By Nosmot Gbadamosi, CNN

(CNN) Do high drug prices mean you can't afford your medication? In Senegal there's an app for that.

Chowberry: How a software engineer is feeding Nigeria's poor with an app

Tech entrepreneur Adama Kane's "virtual pharmacy" allows users to exchange dispensed but unused medication to both reduce wastage and help poorer families pay for their medicine.

"Everyone has a box of unused medicine in their cabinet," Kane told CNN. "I started to think about [developing] a solution to save money," he says.

    JokkoSanté, the free mobile app Kane launched in Dakar, works by locals bringing in unused medication to a licensed pharmacy in exchange for points they can then spend on future prescriptions.

    Olympic fencer Daryl Homer went to prison to coach young offenders

    The aim is to provide communication between those who need certain types of medication but can't afford it and those who have too much.

    Only 25 percent of the continent's population have internet access, so the service also runs offline via SMS text messaging or "quick codes" referred to as USSDs (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data). Locals just sign up to the app using their cell phone numbers.

    Since launching two years ago, the app has exchanged $4,000 worth of medicines and gained 1,500 active members says Kane.

    Shocked by wastage

    The 43-year-old says he was shocked by the amount of unused medicine him and his wife had lying around the house after repeated fertility attempts.

    They'd spent six years trying for a baby but faced the tragedy of continued miscarriages.

    In 2013 when their first son, Legré, was born, Kane realized he and his wife had accumulated a pile of unopened packets of medicine such as Folic Acid.

    "I was living in Africa (seeing) people dying just because they don't have enough money to buy medicines and I was at home with many unopened boxes," recalls Kane. "I told myself that now I must find a solution."

    His answer to this global problem was launched in 2015 and draws on his background in telecoms engineering. I wanted to "create a circular economy," he says.

    In the local dialect, Wolof, 'Jokko' translates as communication and Sante, in French, means health.

    Nearly four tonnes of fake medicine were destroyed by authorities in Dakar in 2015. Informal street vendors add to the problem. Apps such as Kane's give an incentive to buy from pharmacies.

    Money transfer medicine fees

     

    Since launching, his team have widened away from the original concept

    Africans abroad often use transfer operators to send money home. Points purchasing builds on this idea, with users abroad having the option to send points to family and friends in Senegal to use on medicine, instead of money.

    As the app is free for members, the company makes its money through a five percent commission on corporate social responsibility donations. Blue chip companies can buy points for people in need.

    For example, partners can donate points to a certain demographic, explains Kane, such as children between the ages of zero and 15 years old whose parents cannot afford the medication that doctors have prescribed.

    Legitimate claims are currently filtered and sent through social workers at a children's hospital in the town of Diamniadio, 40 kilometers from Dakar.

    But there are limitations to the app. The service relies heavily on pharmacies fielding sensitive medications it cannot accept for example those specifically dosed for an individual. Kane and his team work with Senegal's ministry of health, he says, and so far "we have not found any problems with regulation."

    Although members can forgo internet access to use the service, "in the pharmacy the software needs to be used with the internet," says Kane, potentially limiting its penetration in rural villages.

    Next steps, paying it forward

    The start-up currently partners with one hospital and four pharmacies in and around Dakar. But Kane has his eyes set on many goals.

    His future plans include trying to expand throughout Senegal as well as six other french speaking African countries by the end of 2017, including Gabon, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    By 2020 his start-up is looking to reach 15 countries throughout West Africa.