Monday 19 April 2021
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Redefining laboratory science in Namibia

When Loide Uushona (28) and Pendapala Shiyuka (29) started ProQuest in a three-bedroomed house in 2015, they knew the journey would not be easy one. However their zeal to transform Namibia’s laboratory science sector spurred them on not to relent.
ProQuest is a clinical pathology clinic which offers clinical laboratory tests, research and innovation services in the area of microbiology, clinical chemistry, molecular diagnostics and blood transfusion services.
The laboratory, according to the owners, is also working with the Namibia Institute of Pathology (NIP) to perform a specialized test as part of the antenatal screen for the Ministry of Health and Social Services
The journey has however not been an easy road to travel on. ‘Starting off was very difficult and it still continues to be difficult’ narrates Uushona during an interview with The Patriot.
Before the pair opened up ProQuest, Uushona said it has always been a dream for them to start their own practice, although at the time the idea seemed rather daunting.
From coming up with a viable business, securing funding and meet the strict regulatory standards of the sector in which they operate; these were just some of the hurdles they had to mount as they sought to turn their dream into reality.
Uushona enthusiastically narrated how their passion to modernise and transform the routine of laboratory science in Namibia spurred them on.
“The main labs are normally focused on testing, there is very little research and innovation taking place, one of our goals therefore was to come up with a different model for the industry as well as for younger medical scientists,” she said.
She added: “The frustration came from the fact that there was no growth trajectory in the field in that area which forced us to venture on our own to transform healthcare in Namibia and by extension the African continent. We also want to challenge our fellow youth to innovate solutions that are African based.”
Uushona says funding has not been easy to acquire because people still do not understand the industry in which they operate.
“Funding is still an achy thing, we have two funders that have helped us buy some of our routine instruments, but there were times when we were missing a big chunk of other instruments such as a chemistry instrument that we needed for tests which cost us about N$ 500 000 and we literally used all we had built up to start up our business,” Uushona said.
Although they managed to acquire funding from the Development Bank of Namibia, it did not cover for the expenses required to purchase all the required equipment.
“Donors usually have this notion that health care is difficult because it is specialized, they often tend to leave it to the professionals to do it and that is how they approach certain ideas and end up being very hesitant to help with funding,” highlighted Uushona.
Driven by their goals, the two decided to decide to develop an African web based solution through which they started pitching for funds. Here they came across an acceleration program for female entrepreneurs in biomedical sciences.
After being accepted into the program, Uushona went through several phases where she pitched the pair’s idea and this landed her an opportunity to pitch at the Cape Town Innovation Summit for funding. Although that did not yield anything, they were able to get back feedback on whether the idea of the laboratory actually made sense.
“People normally have ideas but those ideas do not work because there is no guidance and advice on how to better go about it. We were told that our idea was sensible, but it was not something that people were looking to fund at the time,” explained Uushona.
The pair then decided that the next best thing was to self-fund their business.
The economic down turn that the country experienced somewhat also contributed to the challenges that the two faced.
After applying for a contract with PSEMAS during the height of the country’s economic woes: “We fell into the group of practitioners whose applications were frozen in 2016, we weren’t getting any feedback on our contract from the Ministry of Finance on the status of the application. We however could not stop testing or giving service to our PSEMAS clients because they were our biggest clients, so we actually ended up losing our PSEMAS sales for that year.
It was tough, because we had to do all the recovery work on our own, we spent money on chemicals and we invested in terms of technology. It was very difficult trying to recover from that whole scenario but what kept us going was the drive not to relent while not having achieved our objectives,” Uushona explained further.
“Somebody once said that nobody likes to be first because of the fear of failing, because if you are first you are going to be first you then have to make it work, which put a lot of pressure on us but it is nothing compared to what we have encountered so far.
There are more negative than positive views on this because people usually go with the notion that anything owned by young people is going to fail more than it will succeed but I always find that in my own personal space when I take on anything I do. I do it with my goals in mind, thus it is easier for me to numb down the negative voices. I’ve build myself up to that level that I trust my own abilities” she said.
ProQuest started off in a three bedroom house, but has now found its own medical laboratory centre. Aiming to be more diversified in the near future, Uushona and Shiyuka also have ambitions to have functional research and innovations units that are self-sustainable.
“We would like to create employment for the young scientists. I honestly see us expanding outside of Windhoek and the rest of SADC someday. Specifically to Angola, because there is potential for growth there and we have come to realise that their healthcare system is struggling, it would be nice to offer a helping hand to our neighbors.
One of the most important lessons that I take away from taking on such an industry is also realising that the more we keep going the more the world and opportunities open up to us as long as we keep on going” stated Uushona.
Uushona further encouraged young Namibians who dream of starting up businesses to tap into being very competitive.
“Often there are so many opportunities for young Namibians out there but we do not apply and we don’t put ourselves out there, I do not know why that is. When we encourage young people to start, they always find reasons as to why they should find a way to always say no but this too should change, it starts with is” she concluded.

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