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Westminster grad brings affordable health care home

Westminster grad brings affordable health care home

September 13th, 2018 by Helen Wilbers in Local News

Gregory Rockson, a Westminster College graduate and the co-founder and CEO of mPharma, spoke Wednesday during the Hancock Symposium. His company focuses on distributing vital pharmaceuticals to residents of four nations in Africa at affordable prices.

Photo by Helen Wilbers /Fulton Sun.

Westminster College graduate Gregory Rockson thinks anyone can be creative.

Useful innovation, however, requires effort.

"You wake up in the morning with a great idea but to actually bring those ideas to life, we need discipline," he said.

Discipline and hard work applied to creativity led to the creation of mPharma, of which Rockson is co-founder and CEO. He returned to Westminster from his home country, Ghana, to speak Wednesday about his mission and how he's achieved success.

After graduating, Rockson turned his eyes toward home in search of a need to fill. The high price of pharmaceuticals stood out. In Ghana and many other African nations, most pharmacies are small mom-and-pop operations with small customer bases. This means they can't afford to buy in bulk and end up spending more for drugs — which arrive through a convoluted, many-step supply chain.

Additionally, some are scammed with impure or counterfeit versions of drugs.

"I saw this as a challenge to build a solution to what I see as one of the greatest injustices to people in the African continent," Rockson said. "I see affordable health care as an fundamental human right."

With the help of investors that value long-term growth and positive social change, Rockson co-founded mPharma in 2013. Initially, Rockson considered starting his own chain of pharmacies. Then, he realized there was a way to work with existing pharmacies and accomplish his goals.

The company partners up with pharmacies and hospitals and collects data on the medications being prescribed. Then, it aggregates the demand and purchases the drugs in bulk. The company stocks the pharmacies' shelves at no cost to the pharmacy's owners, restocking as necessary with the help of sophisticated software. When a customer purchases drugs at the pharmacy, it gets to keep a commission and the rest goes to repay mPharma.

The first pharmacy partner was making $10,000 per month before contracting with mPharma. The first check mPharma got was for $30.

Five months later, the pharmacy's revenue grew to $40,000.

Today, mPharma is partnered with 150 pharmacies in Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It serves 30,000 patients per month. And it has room to grow.

"The question has always been, 'What more can we do?'" Rockson said. "I don't think I'll ever be comfortable with my success."

Because 90 percent of customers in sub-Saharan Africa are uninsured and pay for drugs out-of-pocket, many can't afford to purchase a full month of a prescription at once. Rockson and mPharma developed an app called Mutti, which allows mPharma customers to pay what they can up-front and repay the rest in interest-free installments.

While mPharma is a for-profit company, Rockson has a strong focus on keeping its practices ethical. Its chief goal is making life-saving drugs as affordable as possible.

"Personally, I didn't create mPharma for financial gains," he said. "There's only so much money a person needs to be comfortable."

That ethos informed mPharma's 2016 launch in Nigeria. At the time, Nigeria was in an economic downturn and inflation was out of control. The company purchased the drugs at a lower exchange rate, before the inflation kicked in, and stood to make an enormous profit if it sold the drugs at the current rate.

"I sat back and said, 'No, we will keep the price the same as when we brought it in,'" Rockson said. "We had enough funds to do that for three months."

That act wasn't good for short-term profit. But in the long term, it built trust and a loyal customer base in Nigeria. Two years later, mPharma's largest presence is in that country.

While mPharma is Rockson's biggest effort so far, it's hardly his first success. Before he even graduated college, Rockson interned for the New York State Assembly, where he wrote a resolution recognizing the Rwandan Genocide which the assembly adopted.

While studying abroad in Copenhagen through Rotary, he founded the city's first chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters for refugee children. He also founded the Six Days of Peace Project, which brought together artists and representatives from several Middle Eastern countries in hopes of fostering peace.

"It might appear that I knew everything I wanted to do," he said. "In fact, most of the best things that have happened to me have happened through unexpected moments."

Rather than plotting a comprehensive course to a perfect future, Rockson has grabbed opportunities that have come his way.

"I was always open to being there and figuring out what would happen after the fact," he said. "It's OK to take a long time to figure out what you want to do, as long as you have a desire for a fulfilled life."