Reimagining patient access to medicines and healthcare in Africa

The health supply chain is much more complicated than delivering consumer goods, but maybe it doesn’t have to be.

July 28, 2020
Bonnie Fundafunda, PhD. & Trip Allport

The right to health is a universal right. For many people in Africa realising that right requires the patient to go to a primary healthcare facility or clinic to access healthcare and medicines. However, ministries of health often struggle to meet patient needs due to limited facilities and capacity to accommodate patients. This traditional model has aimed to create access to healthcare and medicines by dictating where and how the patient can access care. An emerging model which places the patient at the centre is turning the traditional model on its head.

This model looks to private sector practices that allow the client, within a set of constraints, to select how and where they want to receive a product. Think about purchasing a beverage. You can choose to walk into a brick-and-mortar store, buy it online and collect it from the store or have it delivered to your door. The patient-centric model is looking at medicines and healthcare in the same way. Instead of collecting medicines at a hospital or health clinic, the patient can choose to collect their medicine from a retail pharmacy, pick it up from a locker or have it delivered to their home or work.


The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified some of the existing limitations of traditional medicine and healthcare delivery models for both governments and patients. This has hastened the need to find answers to existing questions about how health services and supplies can be made more efficient, effective and patient-centric. One of these answers is differentiated channel delivery (DCD). DCD focuses on bringing medicines and healthcare closer to patients rather than requiring them to go to fixed facilities. DCD incorporates patient-centred care and provision of medicines through the use of different service models and channels for patients to collect their medicines.

For patients, DCD means they have more choice about where and when to access to healthcare and medicines. This saves patients time, money and increases the likelihood of continued treatment for chronic illnesses. For the ministry of health, DCD frees up medical workers and facilities to focus on treating ill patients rather than serving stable patients seeking chronic medication. As a result, there is a willingness to explore how DCD might accelerate access to healthcare and medicines in Africa.


The Africa Resource Centre (ARC) is seeing a growing awareness from governments on the continent about the need to place patients at the centre of healthcare systems. However, to change the ways that patients access medicines and healthcare in Africa will require innovative approaches to policy, legislation and funding. How will this change happen? ARC believes change starts with governments recognising there is a need to provide access to medicines and healthcare differently. Next, ministries of health have to show commitment to creating new ways for their people to access healthcare and medicines. This commitment starts by understanding their patients’ needs and examining the resources that exist within their country. African governments and their partners could dramatically improve their ability to deliver medicines with greater access to local experts, private sector and academic partners. ARC’s work to broker the sharing of expertise and connections between the private sector, governments and donors is one of the ways it is working to support governments in Africa to realise the right to health.


Bonnie Fundafunda, PhD. is the regional lead, supporting East and Southern Africa countries for ARC. He has over 30 years of experience in health policy, planning, strategy, operational systems and business development in Africa.

Trip Allport is managing director of ARC. For over a decade, he has helped to shape and manage partnerships supporting market-oriented solutions to the world’s most challenging development issues between the private and development sectors.