A young single lady purchasing contraceptives or condoms is highly likely to attract curious uncomfortable glances and unapprovingly stares.
The public’s perception and attitude towards ladies purchasing reproductive health facilities could intimidate a section of ladies leading to consequences such as unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, among others.
However, a local tech startup has introduced an e-Commerce platform to enable women access healthcare products and information.
The startup, Kasha, which has been in operation for the last one-and-a-half years, has enabled thousands of women access a range of women’s health products guaranteeing confidentiality and quality.
With the e-Commerce becoming trendy in the East African region, the firm’s founders Joanna Bichsel and Amanda Arch took time to understand the challenges faced by a section of Rwandan women accessing health products.
Among the major challenges was the need for discreetness and confidentiality when purchasing products such as morning after pills, birth control and condoms.
The two moved to mobilise resources to build an e-Commerce platform that could address local solutions.
So far, they have been able to mobilise about $1.5 million in terms of capital enabling them to set up presence in the country with a staff size of 20.
The platform www.kasha.rwalso went beyond the ordinary website and web application to have a dedicated hotline (9111), USSD application (*911#) and WhatsApp interactions for clients without access to the internet and smart phones.
Surprisingly, most of the traffic has for the over 5,000 sales they have made so far been through USSD applications.
“Even if people have a smart phone, we have noted a tendency to use the USSD application (*911#). E-Commerce is a fairly new platform and most people would prefer the simplest model. Not everyone is used to shop online but almost everyone knows how to load airtime,” Bichselsaid.
By building a platform that can be accessed by anyone with a phone whether or not they have internet connectivity, Kasha is relevant at all socio-economic levels.
From their sales so far, about 30 per cent are in rural areas with low wages, 50 per cent are middle income people while about 20 per cent are professionals.
A common challenge among e-Commerce platforms across the world is that their products often have a high markup price as they attempt to make a profit. This often causes products to be more expensive than in retailers stores.
However, Kasha has worked around the challenge by forming strategic partnerships with suppliers and distributors whereby they get volume pricing. That way, they sell the products at the same price as retailers with the convenience of delivery and confidentiality.
The firm also has business model working with manufacturers such as Unilever further having cheaper products.
“We built our business model to keep our products really affordable. Most of these are basic products so you cannot have a high margin. In some cases such as contraceptives and pads, we have same prices as shops and other outlets,” Bichsel told The New Times.
The firm also worked around different delivery models for the products depending on how much the buyer can afford. In some instances, they have door to door delivery while in others they have pick up points near the clients’ location.
To facilitate this, they have about 30 agents so far. To guarantee confidentiality and privacy, the products are packed in such a way that the contents remain unknown.
The hotline also provides information to users including an option of consultancy on phone with a medical professional on products such as birth control and family planning methods.
The firm is currently looking to expand beyond Kigali before the end of the year.
The platform’s website (www.kasha.rw) shows that they have a range of women products from contraceptives, birth control, sanitary, beauty products, baby products, among others.
Their approach has earned them partnerships with the Ministry of Health to increase access to services such as reproductive health in rural areas and least served places.
Dr Anicet Nzabonimpa, a reproductive health expert at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said the firm is enabling the Government increase access of services and products such as family planning.
“This is one of the ways we can reach out to the population especially those in far areas and rural areas,” he said.
With the Government looking for ways to address challenges such as teenage pregnancy which is currently at about 7 per cent, the intervention could be among the considerations for the Government.
Dr Nzabonimpa said that the firm worked closely with the ministry to ensure that the products they were distributing are certified and meet required standards.
Their partnership could also see the government access data that will come in handy in policy making.
For instance, according to Kasha officials, the product highest on demand is emergency contraceptives whose distribution continues to be low in the country and rural areas.
Such information could come in handy for policy makers within the ministry in ascertaining which areas to increase distribution and which areas to subsidise the products.
Rwanda Development Board registrar-general Louise Kanyonga said such innovative investments in the country would also help boost the local e-commerce ecosystem and environment.
She said being an ICT-related innovation with social impact and customer centric, Kasha is set to serve as model for other startups.
With the current uptake, the firm is set to enter the Kenyan market in 2018.