Q&A: MedSource CEO Vinod Guptan on Making Supply Chains More Innovative in Kenya 

June 27, 2022

Q&A: MedSource CEO Vinod Guptan on Making Supply Chains More Innovative in Kenya 

MedSource is just one success story of how MSH’s 50 years of experience is put to use to strengthen the supply chain for medicines and health products through the private sector. The MSH subsidiary is disrupting the status quo to ensure that quality medicines are accessible and affordable to everyone. MedSource does this through its web-based platform, which is available to pharmacies, hospitals, and other pre-approved buyers and is bolstered by AI, real-time data analytics, and prenegotiated discounts based on group buying—ultimately driving prices down for consumers. 

CEO Vinod Guptan has spent nearly three decades working across Africa, Asia, and South America on manufacturing and supply chain challenges at a host of pharmaceutical firms. Here he talks about how MedSource is navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and his ambitions for the future.  

You came on board during a pandemic. How has MedSource helped in keeping a steady supply of medicines during this challenging time?  

Getting all of our customers on our secure electronic platform, and using it, has been key. This enables them to see what products are available and at what price in real time to make informed buying decisions. Before the pandemic, many customers—pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics—were not on the platform or were inactive. The pandemic served as a trigger for those who were inactive to start using it again. Despite these difficult conditions, MedSource membership has increased from roughly 365 at the end of 2020 to more than 600 by the end of March 2022.   

As a result of bringing more pharmacies, hospitals, dental clinics, and others on board, we are reaching roughly 5 million Kenyans—about 10% of the population.  

MedSource also expanded the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), diagnostics, and therapeutics in our catalog, adding more than 900 COVID-related commodities to our product list.   

One way we expanded supplies was to find local manufacturers when many of our distributors who were buying from outside the country were out of stock and PPE could not be imported.  

What were some of the biggest hurdles for MedSource and its members, and how did you adapt?  

Dealing with the supply chain disruption from the pandemic has been a major challenge, in part because Kenya imports a large majority of its medical products. 

Our platform has enabled visibility into the marketplace and given us opportunities to be creative.  

For example, we saw there was an increase in demand for antibiotics, but supply was being stretched thin. The platform enabled us to see the need based on customer searches; local market intelligence informed us that quite a few of those products were available in neighboring countries. That led us to explore liaising with suppliers and distributors and working with regulators so the medicines could be imported from nearby markets instead of across multiple continents.  

How has the pandemic made you rethink supply chains?   

One problem we found is that some customers struggle with tracking inventory efficiently. They don’t always have visibility into supply and demand, and many pay more and stock more products than they actually need.  

So we’ve worked to come up with novel solutions.   

We set about training customers in basic business skills like sound financial management, accounting, and inventory keeping. Another aspect is tracking patterns of disease prevalence to predict product demand. 

Transparency is also making the supply chain more efficient. So when customers come onto the platform looking for a particular molecule, they can see different pricing among distributors and make an informed decision.   

How do patients benefit?   

What may be the biggest benefit is that because of gaps in the supply chain filled through visibility across suppliers, there is an assurance that patients can access products in the last mile. 

In addition, products in our catalogues are quality assured, and patients are seeing lower prices. 

Our internal survey found that consumers saw cost savings of between 10 and 30% during MedSource’s first three years of operation.  

So if five pharmacies in a neighborhood are all selling aspirin or a particular piece of PPE, the consumer has a choice based on price, among other factors.   

Why did MedSource start in Kenya?  

The Kenyan government has been very active in efforts to improve its pharmaceutical management. Health care is a key pillar in its Vision 2030 plan, key pillar in its Vision 2030 plan, which includes strategies to ensure that quality medicines are regulated, affordable, and accessible. That helps instill confidence in what we’re doing at MedSource and provides a reliable and stable working environment.  

Also, MSH has a robust history in the country, having worked here for decades on supply chain and other pharmaceutical challenges. We were able to build on existing relationships to expand our network. That made it a good fit.  

Do you see MedSource as a model that could be successful in other countries?  

Yes. MedSource plans to expand within the East African Community, followed by other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and West Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo is now part of the East African Community, and some organizations have expressed an interest in partnerships. A couple of entities in Nigeria have also expressed an interest in our model. 

In your spare time, you’re a board director and volunteer for Kenya’s Red Cross Society. How does volunteering for the Red Cross inspire your work?  

I have been a Kenya Red Cross Volunteer for the last 10 years, six of which I’ve served on the board of directors. The volunteering efforts entail contributing resources (material, monetary, mobilization, and influencing skills) to the vulnerable through Red Cross interventions.  

Leading the MedSource team, we have entrenched a corporate social responsibility initiative whereby the team donates blood during donation drives spearheaded by the Red Cross.   

And you speak 10 languages!   

Yes! English, Gujarati, Hindi, Marathi, Malayalam, Bengali, Kiswahili, Konkani, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Malayalam is my mother tongue and I studied English, Hindi, and Marathi in school. The others I picked up during the course of my work.   

Being proficient at all these languages enables me to absorb a way of life from the original source, without getting lost in translation.  

You make instant connections when you know something about another person’s country or heritage and speak the language that they are most comfortable conversing in. I plan to learn German and Chinese soon!