There's a 'Deliveroo' for Tampons and Contraceptives in East Africa
UK aid helped kickstart the "femtech" firm to fight menstrual and sexual health stigma.
You can get pretty much anything over the internet these days.
Remember when someone bid £40,000 for a bag of air from a Kanye West show? Or that one time Justin Timberlake left behind two slices of French toast after a radio interview in New York — and the DJ sold it to an NSYNC fan for nearly £800?
But the world can be better than that. Indeed, it already is: A Deliveroo-esque service in Rwanda and Kenya called Kasha delivers tampons and contraceptives to women in need.
Kasha is a "femtech" startup that launched in 2016 to provide a mobile store for women in Africa to confidentially order health and hygiene products like condoms, tampons, emergency contraception, and HIV tests.
It began in Rwanda before expanding to Kenya, offering affordable options across socioeconomic boundaries. Everything can be ordered via an app on a smartphone — or, in lieu of that, an offline text service.
The Telegraph reported that all deliveries are discreet, often dispatched by moped, or an agent from the company in more remote regions. The startup now has more than 20,000 customers — and a team of 75 "Kasha ladies" who build up trust in rural communities to teach people how the service works.
No country in East Africa has a higher contraception rate than Kenya’s 55%, while in Rwanda, 49% of married women use contraception, according to a 2018 report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) — far higher than the 33% average for 16 to 49-year-olds across the whole continent.
A closer look at Kenya tells an even bigger story: 5,322,000 women used modern contraception in 2017, meaning that the country avoided 5,000 maternal deaths, 438,000 unsafe abortions, and 1,472,000 unwanted pregnancies.
With improving technology comes even better access — and by the end of last year Kasha had delivered its 100,000th order. Order by order, customer by customer, the startup is slowly breaking down stigma around contraception and menstrual products, especially as it educates local women on why these products are so important.
“Around the world women are not going to clinics — it’s such a big deal to go in and ask for things like contraceptives and menstrual products,” co-founder Joanna Bichsel told the Telegraph. “We want to change the way women, especially in developing countries, are able to access health products.”
“There was absolutely a gap in technology serving women and women’s needs,” she added. “We have an e-commerce model, but we have chosen to optimise for women and underserved consumers."
Amidst all this, Britain has actually played a vital part.
The UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) helped kickstart Kasha as part of the “Transform” programme it launched in partnership with international personal care company Unilever in 2015.
Britain spends 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on UK aid — the budget used to help the 736 million people around the world who live in extreme poverty. In 2017, that equated to just over £14 billion.
DfID and Unilever’s £40 million partnership aims to support innovative projects that help low-income families in developing countries and drive progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — a series of 17 objectives all geared towards ending extreme poverty by 2030.
“We serve women across segments, from low-income women in rural communities to executive women in offices,” Dianne Dusaidi, Rwanda country director, told the Telegraph. “We’ve actually been surprised with how popular we’ve been with rural areas — we thought Kasha might just appeal to the middle classes.”
“The majority of our agents are widows, single mothers, or breadwinners,” added Malyse Uwase, Kasha’s regional health and impact manager. “We look for women who are motivated and trusted in their community, who can talk through products and help people through the ordering process. They’re the face of Kasha.”