Under the pandemic, East Africa’s leading pharmacy has progressed in its journey to be an organisation that understands its customers’ lifestyles and knows how to look after them going forward.
Pharmacies are often the first point of contact for any East African with a health issue, making them a crucial force against the coronavirus pandemic.
With its 66 stores, Goodlife is the biggest private pharmacy in the region. Its mission is to be a healthcare hub for East Africa, and last year, under the stress of the pandemic with travel restrictions and curfews in force, it broadened operations to fulfil that mission.
“The entire [East African] region was shaken up by COVID-19,” said Goodlife Pharmacy chief executive officer Amaan Khalfan.
Across Kenya and Uganda, where Goodlife operates, there were 132,000 cases of COVID-19 in 2020, leading to just under 2000 deaths, reported Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention senior advisor Stephanie Sayer, with others, in medical journal The Lancet. While Kenya was the eighth worst-affected nation in Africa it had among the very highest testing rates.
Goodlife Pharmacy, already focused on being a convenient and accessible healthcare service, responded to the pandemic in several ways.
It quickly launched an e-commerce platform and used its phone call systems to deliver medication, especially to chronic patients.
“When we look at the general healthcare landscape in East Africa, accessibility to good healthcare has been an issue. What makes us stand out is our customer service. And to me that’s the critical driver,” said Khalfan.
“We’ve seen our e-commerce, and Whatsapp and digital platforms accelerate close to 14 to 15-times what it was a few months ago [before the pandemic].”
Goodlife’s digital traffic increased 1400 per cent during the year: Khalfan said this not only reflects changes in Goodlife’s operations but also among East African consumers, who are more digitally focused and open to non-traditional ways of accessing services.
Recognising that a third of COVID-19-related deaths were those suffering from hypertension and diabetes, Goodlife launched a new in-store service branded as ‘Wellness 360’, providing free customer consultations on such ‘lifestyle’ diseases.
Staff were trained by Phillips Pharmaceutical to give tailored health and wellness advice in areas including nutrition, heart health, diabetes, geriatrics, among other areas that are key to healthy living.
Not only was this one measure to ameliorate the impact of COVID, but another step in Goodlife’s mission to be a one-stop-shop health service for East Africans, following the launch of its free diabetes screening service at the end of 2019.
It is the culmination of progressive change at Goodlife as it transformed into an organisation that understands its customers’ lifestyles and knows how to look after them “going forward rather than just giving them medication”, said chief operating officer Justin Melvin.
Comparing year-on-year, from 2019 to 2020, Goodlife grew 26 per cent in revenue: a result Khalfan describes as “phenomenal in this type of market with average growth rates of about 10 per cent to 12 per cent”.
He attributes this growth to the streamlining of Goodlife’s operations, its high-caliber staff and working with its investors so “Goodlife has been able to position itself where we can scale extremely, extremely rapidly”.
Goodlife is focused on scaling up in the next five years to 250 stores, expanding its reach, including in poorer rural areas, as the East African pharmacy market grows to $US2.8 billion.