Cochlear finds new markets in sub-Saharan Africa

Cochlear, a global leader in implantable hearing solutions, is bringing its world-leading technology to sub-Saharan Africa.

The company is working closely with local distributors and medical specialists to place its technology in hospitals in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Namibia.

Africa is a compelling but complex market. In this case study, Davide Profeta, Cochlear’s Area Sales Manager for Sub-Saharan Africa, shares his advice for aspiring medtech exporters:

  • Be thorough in your market research; you cannot simply leave a market because people’s health are reliant on your technology.
  • Work with local distributors and consultants to tap into their market knowledge.
  • Use government connections such as Austrade to ease market entry.

A market that requires 100% commitment

Cochlear has been active in South Africa and Northern Africa for several years. It started exporting to Kenya and Nigeria about 10 years ago in response to demand from doctors and ENT specialists. The company started to develop the sub-Saharan African market in a more structured way after establishing a regional head office in Dubai in 2013.

Cochlear undertakes extensive research and analysis before entering a market. ‘When a customer decides to use our implant, it’s a lifetime commitment,’ says Profeta. ‘We have a responsibility to be present and can’t simply leave a market if it doesn’t work out.

‘For example, we are not in Ethiopia yet even though it’s the second largest market after Nigeria. The framework doesn’t work for us. We don’t have the right business partner. There are government restrictions for businesses. We have to work out these issues first.’

Profeta adds that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. ‘Even though Kenya and Uganda are neighbouring countries, the market approach, the awareness creation and the engagement with potential patients is completely different in the two markets,’ he says.

He advises diversifying if companies have the resources to ensure sustainable support. ‘Uganda, Ghana and Namibia are small markets but they still bring in a certain amount of revenue that supports the whole business,’ says Profeta.

As at July 2021, Cochlear is active in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and Namibia.

Africa_cochlear

Local partners provide valuable insights

Profeta’s top tip is to engage with local distributors and consultants. ‘If you don’t work with locals, you will have challenges understanding the market dynamics, the business rules and domestic politics,’ he says. ‘You need to tap into their expertise and connections.’

Cochlear works with a distributor who resells their products to hospitals. The company will then help build the hospital’s implant program. A mentor cochlear implant surgeon, audiologist and technical personnel will train local surgeons and audiologists and help activate the sound processors. Cochlear continues to support the local team once they start operating independently. It also provides new product training for ENT specialists and distributors.

Raise awareness and understanding

Cochlear still finds it necessary to increase awareness of its products, despite being the global leader in cochlear implants.

‘Most people know there is a treatment for their hearing problem – the challenge is to convince them a cochlear implant is the right treatment,’ says Profeta. ‘Fortunately, there is a high acceptance of new technology in this region.’

Cochlear speaks with health professionals such as audiologists and ENT specialists to educate them on its products and technologies. The company also speaks with parents’ groups. It has a focus on and asks implant recipients to advocate on its behalf. It attends health events and undertakes marketing and social media activities.

Austrade has also provided assistance. Profeta says the business development manager in Kenya did interviews to raise awareness of Cochlear’s products. Australia’s High Commissioner to Kenya has also represented the Australian Government at events organised or supported by Cochlear.

More recently, Austrade introduced Cochlear to Naijalink, a Lagos-based company approved by Austrade to provide support and services to Australian businesses in Nigeria.

Government connections are critical

No sub-Saharan African market except Tanzania currently provides public funding for cochlear implants. Cochlear’s focus is to secure public funding for its hospital partners, using the World Health Organisation’s World Report on Hearing as a door-opener to conversations with government.

The badge of government is particularly important in starting these conversations. ‘The Trade Commissioner in South Africa asked for our agenda when he met with the newly appointed Australian High Commissioner to Nigeria,’ says Profeta. ‘These facilitations are helpful for us.

‘There’s nowhere like Africa, that’s for sure,’ he says. ‘But it’s a long journey. You have to work on it every day. Results will come, but later, and not as frequently as you might expect in other markets. You have to be resilient.’

Go further, faster with Austrade

Go to Austrade export services to learn the basics, find the right markets and understand market requirements.