Is there a market for innovation in emerging markets?

Synlab Nigeria’s chief medical officer told crowds at the launch of a new wellness centre in Lagos that previously “only outdated technologies were dumped in Africa”. This might be true, but is there a market for expensive innovation?

The new centre offers genetic tests to personalised predict responses to medication, as well as nutrition and exercise advise. Business is tough for groups offering these types of tests in established markets, where income levels are much higher. DNAFit charges £129 for a nutrition test in the UK. Crunchbase estimates it turns over $4.5m annually.

So how successful will similar tests be in a country where the average income for the middle class is between US$480 and $645 a month? Synlab clearly thinks it has seen a market opportunity.

Other companies have had success with ‘innovation’ in emerging markets. Babyl, the Rwandan subsidiary of UK-based telehealth company Babylon, has the highest penetration rate of any telehealth company in any market as it covers about 40% of the population.

Natali, the Israel-based homecare provider, tells HBI this week that it has acquired 10m patients in China since it was bought by a Chinese conglomerate in 2014, mostly acquired B2G.

Both of these companies offer services that were previously unavailable in the markets and fill a gap in primary care left by relevant traditional healthcare systems. But, crucially, both of these schemes are backed and funded by the state. HBI wonders if similar penetration levels could be achieved without that help.

Private providers are still struggling to fill capacity even in the most fundamental aspects of care. Research this week shows that low occupancy rates in India’s biggest cities are forcing for-profit hospitals to build in smaller cities – India cannot even fill its beds.

Might Nigeria, then, struggle to make money with genetic testing? It is difficult to say. Nigeria is the world’s 27th largest economy and its manufacturing, financial, service and technology sectors are expanding. But striking a balance between pricing the services of these new models sufficiently low to attract patients, and making sufficient profit, could prove a delicate balancing act.

We would welcome your thoughts on this story. Email your views to Rachel Lewis or call 0207 183 3779.