The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.
There are certain markets that the average person doesn’t think about often, not until thinking about them is a matter of life and death.
Today, I am highlighting one such market – the market for blood transfusions. I am also highlighting what one startup, LifeBank Nigeria, is doing to solve the problems plaguing the market for blood transfusions in emerging markets where healthcare and transportation infrastructure is weak or nonexistent.
This topic is of particular salience as the world grapples with how to cope with the outbreak of SARS-COV-2 – the novel coronavirus, and COVID-19, the disease that results from infection with SARS-COV-2. In fact, people following developments around COVID-19 might have seen news reports on the use of blood plasma as an experimental treatment for the disease. For example, on March 24, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published Investigational COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma – Emergency INDs. On March 24, City & State NY published NY to start experimental treatments for COVID-19. Finally, Treatment of 5 Critically Ill Patients With COVID-19 With Convalescent Plasma appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association on March 27.
Various TV news segments in the U.S. featured reports about the plight of Amy Breslow and her husband, Brett, who, as I write this commentary, is undergoing intensive care in a New Jersey hospital while desperate efforts are underway to secure COVID-19 convalescent plasma for his treatment.
As Lifebank Nigeria puts it, the need for blood and blood-related products in critical care is “an African problem, an emerging market problem, a worldwide problem.”
Similar to Commentary: Modernizing Africa’s logistics capacity, one startup at a time, which was posted on FreightWaves.com on Thursday, January 16, this commentary has come about from a conversation I had in November 2019, with Eghosa Omoigui, Managing General Partner of EchoVC Partners and EchoVC Pan-Africa Technology Fund respectively.
Defining the problem – inadequate supply chain logistics is a matter of life and death
A January 29, 2020 press release from ResearchAndMarkets.com puts the size of the global market for blood management growing to $15.3 billion by 2024. A March 2020 report by IBIS World puts revenues for blood and organ banks in the U.S. at $11.6 billion in 2019, with an estimated growth rate of 1.3% between 2019 and 2024. From those forecasts, I estimate that the market outside the U.S. will be roughly between $3 billion and $5 billion by 2024. This market includes companies that collect, store and distribute human blood and other blood-related products, like organ tissue, used in critical care facilities. The main problems related to blood banks or blood and organ banks, are tied to issues around availability, safety and cost.
Insights from the field – Temie Giwa-Tubosun, founder and CEO, LifeBank Nigeria
LifeBank is a medical distribution company that uses data, technology and smart logistics to improve the discoverability, delivery, affordability and safety of essential medical products such as blood and other blood-related products, as well as oxygen, to hospitals in Nigeria. It builds, manages and maintains a supply chain logistics platform that connects three groups:
- Hospitals and other critical care facilities with a need for blood and blood-related products.
- Voluntary blood donors willing to donate blood on a frequent basis.
- Mobility service providers capable of delivering the required product to the required location on time and in acceptable condition.
The inability to quickly connect patients in critical condition with blood and organ donors is a problem all over the world, but the problem is particularly acute in Africa because of a combination of poor supply, inadequate storage, and poor or non-existent transportation and supply chain logistics infrastructure to enable distribution.
LifeBank’s business model has a business-to-business component in that LifeBank’s customers are private hospitals. The other aspect of the business model, which I understand is in development, is a business-to-government component in which LifeBank’s customers will be government agencies that pay an annual service fee for LifeBank’s services. The company estimates that roughly 57% of Africa’s population lives in rural areas, and so government customers represent a potentially sizable chunk of the company’s future revenues.
LifeBank was founded by Temie Giwa-Tubosun (TGT). Below, we discuss aspects of LifeBank’s business.
BLA: What inspired you to start LifeBank?
TGT: I was inspired to solve this problem after several personal encounters with maternal deaths. These encounters occurred in a northern Nigerian village where I met a woman who had been in labor for two days because there was no blood readily available to replenish what she had lost. Years later, I had similar childbirth complications but was lucky to be in a hospital equipped to handle it. Due to these encounters with postpartum hemorrhage (PPH), which accounts for 60% of maternal deaths in Africa, and frustrated by Nigeria’s high maternal mortality rate of 814 deaths per 100,000 live births, I decided to tackle the problem. The inadequate supply of blood is also responsible for the estimated annual deaths of 50,000 sickle cell patients, 40,000 cancer patients and 17,000 accident victims in Nigeria alone. This limited availability of blood is also linked to the high child mortality rate of the most vulnerable children. Since inception four years ago, LifeBank has delivered about 20,000 units to 400+ hospitals in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt. We have saved over 6,776 lives, 75% of whom are women and children. At LifeBank, we believe deeply in technology, cost-effective pricing and universal access.
BLA: What have you found most exciting about your efforts to build a modern, software-enabled supply chain logistics platform that does business across Nigeria and the African continent?
TGT: A few months ago, we conducted a proof of concept in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) to examine when it makes sense to use drones for deliveries and how best to deploy the exciting innovation to provide maximum utility. With the drone launch, LifeBank is the first African-led company to execute beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights for healthcare logistics. We were so proud and we are working really hard to expand this service.
BLA: What have you found most frustrating?
TGT: Africa is known for its lack of real infrastructure. Our work is building the soft infrastructure that will help fill the gap and leapfrog to save lives. However, building a healthcare supply chain company in such an underdeveloped economy requires that we invest in smart logistics technology. As you know, this is incredibly capital-intensive. Thus, what we find most frustrating is finding patient capital that will allow us to invest in infrastructure and grow quickly to save lives across the continent and other emerging markets.
BLA: What opportunities do you expect to pursue in 2020?
TBT: LifeBank is building the supply chain engine for Africa’s healthcare systems, starting with blood and we project to break-even by the end of 2020 in our current cities of operation. Our growth stage can be simplified into geographical expansion, product portfolio expansion and monetization of technological innovations. We know we are up to something at LifeBank and cannot wait to expand across the world
BLA: What obstacles do you expect to overcome?
TBT: Some of the obstacles we’ve faced building this business is witnessing how the lack of investment in healthcare translates to under-resourced healthcare workers and crumbling health systems. While companies like ours are building technological tools that can help leapfrog some infrastructural needs by creating soft infrastructure, we still need governments to create an environment where these innovations can be implemented at scale. We have brilliant, resourceful healthcare workers in emerging markets who deliver the best care they can under some pretty tough circumstances. We are working on overcoming these obstacles by delivering impactful solutions and pursuing partnerships that align with and amplify our solutions.
BLA: What is your take on the African Free Trade Agreement in relation to LifeBank’s business prospects?
TBT: It’s great, we believe that anything that improves regional integration is a win for the African people and when African people win, so does LifeBank.
LifeBank currently has operations in three Nigerian cities – Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt, with plans to begin operations in Kenya soon. It has 37 team members across all the cities in which it operates.
Lifebank would not disclose or confirm data about its funding history to date. However, on January 31, 2018, Quartz reported that LifeBank had raised $200,000. EchoVC Partners is an investor, as is Nigeria’s CcHub. The company has participated in the Merck Accelerator and in MIT Solve. Most recently, in November 2019, Temie Giwa-Tubosun and LifeBank won the first place prize in the grand finale of the Jack Ma Foundation’s African Netpreneur Prize Initiative. With that win Lifebank secured $250,000 in grant funding to propel its efforts. According to CBInsights, the company has raised a total of $500,000 from a combination of angel investors, early-stage venture capital funds, accelerators and business plan competitions.
As we are witnessing with the global pandemic caused by SARS-COV-2 and COVID-19, we cannot afford to take supply chains for granted. We especially can’t afford to take supply chains in healthcare for granted, and critical care supply chain logistics is one area where innovation is sorely needed to reduce the time between the identification of need and the procurement and delivery of the product to fulfil the need.
Startups like LifeBank Nigeria are leading the way.
If you are a team working on innovations that you believe have the potential to save lives through supply chain logistics, we’d love to tell your story in FreightWaves. I am easy to reach on LinkedIn and Twitter. Alternatively, you can reach out to any member of the editorial team at FreightWaves at firstname.lastname@example.org.