Bridging the gap in access to medicines in Haiti
For healthcare providers in Haiti, accessing quality medicines is challenging. Medicines and medical supplies need to be imported. Long shipping times become even longer due to customs clearance. Local delivery is complicated by poor infrastructure – some remote communities are inaccessible during the rainy season. When essential medicines are available, it’s not always possible to ensure their quality. The lack of quality medication has far-reaching impact on the Haitian people, many of whom do not have access to basic health care.
Haiti Medicine S.A. (HM), based in Port-au-Prince, was founded in 2011 to address these problems. In 2016, IDA Foundation formally established a partnership with HM to register products and build a stock of quality-approved IDA medications in Haiti.
In the interview below, HM’s CEO Kesney Auguste shares his motivation and his dreams for the future of Haiti and Haiti Medicine.
Q: First, tell us a little bit about your background. Where were you born? Where did you go to school and what did you study? What kind of work did you do before starting Haiti Medicine?
A: I was born in Haiti, came to the United States in 1985 and became a citizen in 1993. I am married with two children and we reside in Binghamton, New York. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Boston University in 1992 and my Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame du Lac in 1999. Before co-founding Haiti Medicine S.A. (April 2011), I had worked in electrical designs, control systems designs, and project engineering positions at Xerox, Corning Glass, and BAE Systems. I’m also the founder and CEO of A&S Depanneur, LLC in the state of New York.
Q: What are the biggest health problems facing the Haitian population?
A: The biggest health problem in Haiti is poverty. Poverty is the underlying cause of conditions like malnutrition, tuberculosis, diabetes, high blood pressure/hypertension, and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. Most people in Haiti do not have access to basic health care. There is also a lack of basic health services and infrastructure (including sanitation). Since the first cholera outbreak in 2010, cholera has killed a great number of Haitians especially in rural areas. Obesity has also risen considerably in Haiti in recent years.
Q: What do you think are the biggest obstacles to accessing quality medicines in Haiti?
A: Over 85% of the Haitian people live in extreme poverty and they cannot afford medicines at all, let alone medicines of high quality. Many people with major health issues rely on visiting medical teams with donated medicines. More often, people buy improperly stored medicines that may be expired or compromised. Distributors in Haiti regularly face stock outs because there are no pharmaceutical manufacturers and laboratories in Haiti - most medicines and health products that are available in the market come from overseas.
Q: What was your motivation for creating Haiti Medicine?
A: I wanted to create a place where the public could find affordable, high-quality generic medicines and health products that are stored and distributed in proper conditions. I also wanted to build a company that offers good employment opportunities in my former neighbourhood, where Haitians would be happy to work and grow professionally. Finally, I wanted to create a reliable company that offers professional services, and is customer friendly.
Q: What does HM offer that makes it different from other distributors or suppliers of medication in Haiti?
A: At HM, we pride ourselves on being a “social impact” company with a primary focus on expanding access to quality medicines in Haiti. This is our goal, rather than making excessive profits. We engage with our community and share our knowledge through free training programs. We seek to earn and maintain the loyalty of our customers by providing excellent services and fast response time. HM strives to form partnerships with well-established and respected companies (like IDA) to offer the best and most reliable products to our customers.
We are also committed to maintaining high quality standards. Recently we were audited and approved as a wholesaler of health commodities for USAID-funded projects. We were proud to be recognised for the quality of our warehouse facility and our processes.
Q: What advantages does HM’s relationship with IDA Foundation give you? And your customers?
A: IDA has a strong global reputation and is well-known in Haiti for their strict quality standards and affordable generic medicines and medical supplies. The partnership with HM allows health care providers in Haiti to access IDA’s products directly from HM stock in Port-au-Prince. This eliminates long delivery times, reduces stock-outs, and ensures continuity of patient care.
Partnering with IDA also allows HM to gain name recognition and build customer trust locally and internationally. From a social impact standpoint, this partnership makes it possible for HM to employ local staff to manage and sell products to our customers. At the same time, employees are given the opportunity to grow personally and professionally.
Q: Are there any new services or products that HM will be offering in the coming year?
A: HM will soon offer some anaesthetic and narcotic medicines, which are often difficult to find in Haiti. We will provide free training sessions to about 250 young adults on market research, sales and marketing, and stock management. We will continue our efforts to find and form partnerships with national and international institutions that share HM’s mission and vision.
Q: What is your dream for HM? If you were to be 100% successful, what would that look like?
A: Five years from now, I would like HM to have the capacity to distribute health products in all ten health departments in Haiti. I would like our portfolio to expand to about 300 medicines – those used to treat the diseases that target the poorest and most vulnerable in Haiti. To be 100% successful we would need to meet several goals. First, 90% of all health care providers in Haiti would view HM among the most reliable distributors of high quality generic medicines and medical supplies. Second, we would increase revenue so that we could hire additional personnel and acquire necessary equipment, including a 90-100KW solar power system. Finally, I want to continue to strengthen the partnership with IDA, and find and form new partnerships with other companies locally and internationally. This would allow HM to expand our capacity at all levels, offer more employment opportunities, and increase our range of products to serve our customers.