Ellen McGirt | The Design Observer Twenty

Dr. Ismail D. Badjie

An innovative model delivers dignified, community-centered preventive health services in The Gambia.

Dr. Ismail D. Badjie

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Dr. Ismail Badjie was a newly minted pharmacist when he had the insight that eventually became Innovarx. “I was living in Charlotte, working for Walgreens, but I spent most of my time in rural North Carolina. Poverty, lack of education, food deserts — these were big issues.” Working closely with specific populations, he says, you understand how fraught their lives are. “You notice when Miss Masie suddenly has to choose between food and medicine,” he says. “In that way, a grandmother in rural North Carolina and a grandmother in Gambia are affected the same way.”

Innovarx, launched in Gambia in 2019, focuses on preventive health using a combination of physical pharmacies, mobile health delivery, telemedicine, data collection, and community outreach programs designed to weave together a set of services that are more likely to identify illnesses like hypertension and diabetes before they become deadly. “You can’t just replicate the U.S. system with a 500-bed hospital, dump it in Africa, and expect it to work. You have to meet people where they are.”

And they’re dying young. While the experience of poor, rural grandmothers may have a universal component, they are shockingly rare in Gambia. Most Gambians are under 18 and unlikely to make it to old age. “Less than .01% of our population is over 80 years old, and less than 3% of our population is over 65 years old,” Badjie says. A blood test for a dollar, a three-dollar-a-month medication could transform the health and prosperity of the country. “Most of the continent only has a relationship with health care in a time of crisis when health care is expensive. When it’s completely inaccessible, it becomes the situation of the haves and have-nots.”

You can’t just replicate the U.S. system with a 500-bed hospital, dump it in Africa, and expect it to work.
Dr. Ismail D. Badjie

Badjie spent years studying health systems in other parts of the world before he launched Innovarx, charting the rise of urgent care centers in Dubai, learning to navigate disparities in pharmaceutical manufacturing in India, and shopping for new medical devices in China. “It took me four years of incubating and market research, traveling to other countries, before I opened our doors in 2019.” The data they’re collecting now contributes to a broad picture of illness and opportunity. “Our electronic health record system can aggregate data from a population health standpoint that no traditional pharmacy could capture.”

The company also delivers peace of mind. “Some 60% of our revenue comes from people who don’t live in The Gambia,” Badjie says. They are Gambians like him, living abroad and worried about their loved ones. That’s part of what makes this personal. “Diseases like diabetes and hypertension ravaged my family,” he says. “I didn’t get to know most of my grandparents, aunts, and uncles because they died in their fifties.” But when his mother was diagnosed with hypertension, she was lucky — she had a son who was a pharmacist in the U.S., so she had access to good medicine and knew how to take it. Innovarx thrives because of a willing diaspora who loves their families. “This is what everyone should have.”

Essay by Ellen McGirt.

Posted in: The Design Observer Twenty

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