Healthy Entrepreneurs helps Uganda fight coronavirus

Joost van Engen is a business expert with years of experience in the worldwide sale of food and medicines. With his company Healthy Entrepreneurs, he brings basic medical care, work and income to remote villages in southern Africa. The well-designed approach is proving its worth in the coronavirus crisis.

Ondernemers in Oeganda

Van Engen worked at a foundation where he distributed medicine to NGOs for 7 years. "Decisions about donors' money are often political. I was concerned that people in remote areas were hardly reached, despite the good intentions." Together with a colleague, in 2011, he decided to develop an alternative supply chain model – the path from manufacturer to customer.

Focus on Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya

After years of testing in various countries, the focus is now on Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. "The model is now fundable. I'm very happy that the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, through the Dutch Good Growth Fund (DGGF), and other investors believe in our ambitious growth path. After all, it is quite a difficult business case.”

How does Healthy Entrepreneurs work?

"Healthy Entrepreneurs is a franchise network of community health workers; 85% are women. From their mini pharmacies, they sell basic medicines and health products to people in the most remote villages. We train and guide the entrepreneurs. They invest US$40 in a starter pack of medicines and a tablet. They use the tablet to arrange their purchases and show informative videos. More than 3,000 entrepreneurs are currently active in Uganda, 1,000 in Kenya and 500 in Tanzania. I am convinced that we will be able to reach some 600 million people in southern Africa with this model." 

"We currently work in 25 of Uganda's 130 districts. As soon as training is allowed again, funding from DGGF will allow us to expand our network of health workers in Uganda and Kenya from 4,000 to 16,000 in 2025."

You live in Uganda. To what extent has that country been affected by the coronavirus?

"Fortunately, the spread of the virus has been limited so far. On 17 May there were 203 cases. But Uganda has to be prepared. Of its 44 million inhabitants, 80 to 90% live in the less developed districts. An outbreak of the coronavirus would be devastating. That's why there has been a strict lockdown since mid-March. There is no air traffic and there are strict rules for truck drivers.”

Healthy entrepreneurs

What does this mean for your activities?

"Our services qualify as essential, so we are allowed to take to the streets. We provide refresher courses, face masks, soap and gloves. The Ugandan government has also asked us to develop a 'COVID-19 Response' for the whole country. We are going to test the Doctor at Distance app and convert it into a nationwide telehealth solution for Uganda, linked to a large network of trained doctors.”

From aid to trade

Barry Brouns, DGGF investment manager at the Netherlands Enterprise Agency: "Healthy Entrepreneurs is a social enterprise with vision and potential. Their unique model has a wide reach: medical care for people in remote areas and jobs for community health workers. Further upscaling is needed, however, to make the model profitable and sustainable. We are happy to contribute by providing a DGGF loan. It's a wonderful example of how we can move from aid to trade."

Would you like to know more?

Read more about Healthy Entrepreneurs

Would you like to set up an impactful international business like Healthy Entrepreneurs? Via the DGGF fund, the Netherlands Enterprise Agency finances projects in developing countries and emerging markets on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Simply send us an e-mail and our advisers will be happy to provide tailored advice with no obligations.