Young entrepreneur fills medical supply gap in rural Africa

A 20-year-old inspiring South African entrepreneur, Tony McPherson, has launched a new company aimed at providing medical consumables and disposables to difficult-to-deliver regions and rural communities across the continent. 

 McPherson is also the world’s youngest CEO of an international pharmaceuticals company

Launched in 2019 and dubbed McPherson Trading, the company has provided a much-needed service to various countries across Africa including, Mali, Malawi, Tanzania, the DRC, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. The company claims to have delivered R30-million worth of medical stock to date.

McPherson Trading specialises in consumables and disposables such as PPE, needles, syringes, intravenous and arterial lines, sutures, saline, and distilled water, wound dressings, and single-use medical equipment.

Closing the gap

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), African countries are impacted greatly by infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV. These diseases have also been labelled some of the world’s biggest causes of death. According to reports, one Sub-Saharan Africa country accounts for 93% of malaria-related deaths in the world. 

In addition, reports have also indicated that 20.7-million people in East and Southern Africa are living with HIV, with TB accounting for around one in three AIDS-related deaths.

With high rates of infection found across countries in Africa, many clinics in rural areas lack the necessary medical equipment and supplies required to treat these diseases.  

The challenges 

According to WHO low-income countries across Africa experience poor availability of essential medical supplies and equipment and substandard-quality treatments, frequent stock issues, and suboptimal prescriptions and use of medicines.

McPherson comments on the growing need to provide medical supplies and equipment to these various rural towns.

“Africa’s weak supply system has a lot to do with poor procurement practices, lack of storage facilities for pharmaceutical supplies and products, poor transportation systems, and inefficient manufacturing capacity.”

He adds that the increase of Covid-19 has made this an even more pressing issue that his company seeks to address with their innovative solution. 

“These issues are particularly extreme in hard to reach rural areas, where large corporations do not regularly operate, so they do not possess expertise in the logistical struggles encountered in these regions. We have managed to make a big difference over the last two years in getting supplies to rural clinics and relief programmes in a timely manner, with demand increasing. COVID-19 has played a role in this demand as well.”

McPherson believes the gap in getting medical supplies to hard-to-reach regions in Africa is nowhere near closed and that it will take a lot of time and financial investment to reach a consistent level of procurement throughout the continent. 

He cites obstacles like bad roads with severe potholes and vegetation that make it impossible for delivery trucks to reach their destination. In some landlocked areas, crates of supplies must be delivered with helicopters, which is a costly endeavour. 

“Other challenges I face daily include obtaining specific permits required for different regions – there is a lot of red tape, liaising with customs agents based in foreign countries, and overcoming language barriers,” says McPherson.

Other challenges faced by the 20-year-old Capetonian’s company include the logistical movement of much-needed supplies. 

“Consigning freight from all over the world, to be repacked and loaded on the appropriate freight medium to then consolidate between several suppliers and freight intermediaries in countries with sometimes very limited staffing and facility resources, is no easy task,” adds McPherson.

The youngest CEO of an international pharmaceutical company 

The young entrepreneur is also the group CEO of McPherson Holdings which includes the running of his late grandfather’s international pharmaceutical company, EmOx™ Oxygen, the manufacturer of the world’s only emergency powder-based oxygen. 

This officially makes McPherson the youngest CEO of an international pharmaceutical company in the world – a title he was awarded at the ARAB Health Conference held in Dubai last year. He attributes successfully maximising supply-chain and logistics across Africa to receiving invaluable guidance from his father, who has been involved in cross-border logistics since the age of 24. 

 “I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by a long line of businessmen and women from whom I could learn from, which has equipped me with the knowledge needed to overcome the immense challenges of making this business work,” McPherson concludes.   

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Featured image: Tony McPherson, Photographed by EBEN Photography 

Ishani Chetty: Editor
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