Motorcycle laboratory races to Sh500m healthy business
Date and time: 
Tue, 2014-09-23 08:43
Location / Venue: 

Nairobi, Kenya

Dr. Ahmed Khalebi, pathologist and CEO Lancet Kenya

The roaring sounds of Lancet Kenya-branded motorcycles have become common in many neighbourhoods. Pathology firm Lancet Kenya has been gaining popularity in the medical field since it was established in 2009 for its fast test diagnosis and its ability to reach Kenya’s remote hospitals as well as testing for cancer sub-types.

 

 

For Ahmed Kalebi, the chief executive, it is a journey that began with a dream of a young medical doctor in the 1990s, whose desire to establish a modern laboratory could not be quenched.

“I had worked in various government facilities where laboratory services were poor and I could only do so much,” says Dr Kalebi.

He had set up a laboratory in Garissa where he had been posted. “But since I was limited in capacity, I couldn’t make the lab meet the high standards that I wanted.”

Dr Kalebi eventually got a breakthrough in 2008 while pursuing a masters degree in South Africa. The chairman of Lancet laboratories headquartered in South Africa – Dr Gangaram Hariparsad – called him to discuss business.

“He had learnt of my intentions to set up a lab and agreed to give me the funds and made me a partner and CEO for Lancet Kenya, which now encompasses the entire East Africa,” he says.

Dr Kalebi says he remembers Dr Hariparsad’s exact words: “There’s potential in Kenya and a big market there. We also know there’s competition already from labs in big hospitals and some privately-owned ones. But you seem to have the drive so we will take the risk.”

Dr Kalebi says the laboratory business is a complex industry that is driven by three aspects: intellectual capital, financial resources and logistics. He explains that he learnt these lessons the hard way.

“After setting up Lancet Kenya, everything seemed okay. We had all the necessary equipment and staff. Then we waited for samples and not much came. Business was slow, so we realised the company was suffering from a strategy gap,” he says.

It is then that the company began moving closer to the people using motorcycles. “Our motorcycles go everywhere, even to the heart of informal settlements that are often ignored.”

This strategy has made it possible for Lancet to bring laboratory services closer to all Kenyans, and especially those in marginalised, rural and remote communities. “We are saying that if you want any tests done, don’t worry about reaching us. Lancet will come to you,” he says.

Dr Kalebi says that the success of transporting medical tests to patients or rural hospitals is pegged on public-private partnerships. “We work with government, public, mission, and other health facilities that have roots across the country. This is significantly spurring our growth.”

At the base of these agreements are pricing models customised to meet all patients’ needs. For instance, Dr Kalebi states that the company offers heavily subsidised charges to rural health facilities. “We want to adequately address health needs of all Kenyans irrespective of their social status,” he says.

With the new strategy, which is in line with the devolution of health care services, business is good. The laboratory’s annual turnover has risen from Sh100 million to Sh500 million.

Lancet Kenya which initially had offices in Nairobi only, now has 28 scattered across Kenya with 50 more in the offing within the next 15 months. The company has opened branches in Tanzania and Uganda and is soon going to Rwanda.

Dr Kalebi says that he used to be the only pathologist, but now Lancet has about 10 doctors. The total number of employees in East Africa has also increased from 25 in 2009 to 312, all who are specially trained and have the expertise required for the job.

 

 

The early years were difficult, Dr Kalebi says, but the passion he had kept him going, even when the company made losses. “I literally used to work for 20 hours daily as I was handling very many things.”

Asked about his secret to success, Dr Kalebi says: “We focus on quality always. That’s our number one priority. And then business follows.”

The company has invested in a laboratory information system (LIS) which has made operations paperless. Samples are booked online and clients automatically get test results by phone or e-mail. Lancet is able to meet the 12-minute maximum waiting time they have set for clients.

“We also don’t issue results blindly. We go further and interpret them for our clients thus making their work easier.” Dr Kalebi adds that the LIS also connects all Lancet offices allowing the company to have a virtual laboratory. “I can sit here and monitor all operations across East Africa instead of visiting the offices personally.”

Lancet Kenya is also among the very few centres in the country with equipment that can test cancer sub-types. “A person may have breast cancer, but you need to know the type as some cancers are more aggressive than others and will require different treatment approaches.”

With these technologies in the country, he says, patients with various chronic diseases no longer need to travel abroad for tests. “And if we are not in a position to do some tests, we transport them to laboratories within the Lancet laboratories system anywhere at no extra cost.”

He cites poor adherence to set price guidelines for laboratory services, high taxes and poor testing culture among Kenyans (such as having regular pap smears to prevent cervical cancer) as some of the challenges facing the sector.

Adopted from Business Daily - September 23, 2014

 

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Sat, 2017-09-30 08:43
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