Last month, the Linked Foundation and Mercy Corps Guatemala teams visited the first three rural pharmacies in Puebla, Mexico that are part of the Boticas Simiares (BOSI) pilot program led by Farmacias Simiares. As Nancy described, it was incredible to see what has been accomplished in just a few months. Three women-owned small pharmacies are selling low-cost, high quality medicines in areas that had little access to medicines before, and where transportation costs to larger towns where those medicines are available are prohibitively high.
As with any new program or business, there is a period (or several periods) of adjustment to the model depending on the context and initial results. The purpose of a program pilot is, of course, to test a model in a specific context, and make adjustments or major changes before the full program rollout. For this reason, it is critical to collect as much data as possible and to make the most of that data to determine what is working, what needs refinement, and what changes should be made. We were pleased to see that Farmacias Similares is taking a proactive and diligent approach to collecting BOSI sales and operational data, and thinking about what changes should be implemented in the next set of stores and to the business model overall.
There are several components to a model like this that will inevitably need tweaking once the stores are up-and-running and over time. For example, what should the initial store inventory of various medicines look like? How often and by what means should restocking occur? What should the initial loan amount to storeowners be, what are the loan terms and how are repayments handled? Can storeowners expect to sell enough medicines to make loan payments each month at the end of the grace period? What is the ideal community size for the stores, and how should they be clustered?
Sales data is critical to informing many of these answers, but there are many other pieces to the puzzle. Farmacias Similares is also looking at data like local transportation costs, frequency that store owners already travel to towns where restocking and repayments may occur, competition, product demand and acceptance, safety issues in the communities, the relationship between sales and the skills/knowledge of store owners, and many other related factors. As most programs learn at one point or another, what you discover is often not what you expected and requires a rethinking of our initial assumptions! But this data is helping us to design a more innovative health solution that best meets local needs and that sets the model up for success.
The next step will be to develop a system to ensure that data continues to be collected and analyzed as the program scales up, and we are working with Farmacias Similares to explore technology solutions for doing that. In the process, much of what we are learning about how to use information to improve the program and how to collect that information will be explored for the TISA program in Guatemala.
No one ever thought that creating a sustainable model to deliver medicines to the rural poor would be easy – otherwise it would have been done a long time ago. But with a talented and dynamic team willing to dig into all of the information available, to test, redesign and keep improving, I think we are well on our way to doing just that.
– Anna De La Cruz, Senior Advisor Linked Foundation