AfroCentric is responding to the need for improved healthcare products through its range of varied, value-driven and client-centric offerings, says group CEO Ahmed Banderker


The SA healthcare system is under strain. Inadequate access to services, unaffordable medical aids and debatable quality of care have led to widespread criticism. While the forthcoming National Health Insurance is directed at tackling these issues, alternative models are required, which AfroCentric Investment Corporation is addressing.

This black-owned, diversified and the largest health-risk manager in Southern Africa is an investment enterprise comprising three clusters – corporate solutions, pharmaceutical and healthcare services – and 20 companies, all of which are niche in various aspects of medical support. Ahmed Banderker, group CEO, explains that the healthcare clusters are aimed at making a meaningful difference in the cost and delivery of medical aid.

‘The only way to do this is to disrupt current entrenched ways of providing healthcare with models that address inefficiencies. We’ve invested significant financial and intellectual capital into analysing the healthcare rand, thinking through problems, and investing in solutions,’ he says. For example, in SA, a patient does not always interact initially with a nurse for the very basic first-level assessment of health needs. Doctors and specialists are often this starting point, which can be costly and time-consuming. Through its corporate solutions cluster, AfroCentric looks to flip this with the introduction of clinics and nurses as a first point of call for corporates and individuals, whether they have medical aid or not.

Another example is AfroCentric’s Pharmacy Direct, a retail courier pharmacy. It holds contracts with the Department of Health in specific provinces, and distributes more than 1 million chronic-medication parcels per month. That’s ‘two packs every four seconds, [which] makes us the largest South African courier pharmacy’, says Banderker.

Through Pharmacy Direct, the group has one of the more successful public/private partnerships in SA, which demonstrates how AfroCentric works collectively with the state in addressing the inequalities and burden of diseases.

‘We’ve looked closely at the trends of healthcare usage and the disease burden in the country, and we are constantly challenging ourselves to find ways to drive down costs of medical aid for the current 3.8 million lives we cover, and for our future customers,’ he says.

The businesses under the AfroCentric banner are all cash-generating, and therefore beneficial for its investors. The group recorded a 21.6% rise in total revenue and a growth of 19.1% profit after tax for the financial year ending June 2020. ‘These results were driven by a continued strong performance of the group’s health services and healthcare retail businesses,’ says Banderker. ‘We declared a final dividend of 17 cents per ordinary share for the financial year.’

AfroCentric is also acquisitions focused, and this is where Banderker has been most active. ‘I came in at a time when the group had already made a number of clever acquisitions. Now is the time to extract value from those. One of my key measures is how our various businesses integrate and improve user experience. Ultimately, all the companies in the three clusters must help us grow our total value proposition and services in the healthcare sector.

‘So we’ve shifted into a higher gear, boosted by our embrace of digital and technology-enabled innovations, allowing us to venture further into newer revenue streams. Healthcare is a space that has not seen true innovation in the past 10 to 15 years. We’re changing that with our new models, with testament confirmed by the net growth of our large clients and the taking on of new closed medical-scheme clients.’

In its manifestation of a culture of innovative transformation, AfroCentric was awarded the Decision Management Innovation award at the 2019 FICO World Decisions Conference in New York, recognising its subsidiary Medscheme for the redesign of its claims-management systems.

This year, characterised by COVID-19 and its impacts, has seen the group’s wholesale and supply arm expand its manufacturing capacity in the provision of PPE, translating into the retention of 600 jobs within the clothing and textile industry. To date, it has manufactured 1.3 million masks without compromising quality. ‘We also secured distribution rights for the newly approved COVID rapid-test kits that will be needed should there be a second wave of the pandemic,’ says Banderker.

A digital platform to enable virtual consultants on COVID-19 screening, occupational health and employee assistance programme solutions for AfroCentric corporate medical scheme customers was also introduced, indicating just how rapidly responsive AfroCentric is to changing needs in the healthcare sector. ‘We simply don’t have competitors at this level of holistic healthcare,’ says Banderker. ‘Our diversity of offerings means we are in a very favourable position to continue growing.’

By Kerry Dimmer