Chizoba Alu, a University of Port Harcourt graduate of Science Laboratory Technology with specialisation in Physiology and Pharmacology, is making money from saving the lives of many Nigerians.
She is the CEO of Steripro Nigeria Limited, which she started in 2017. The firm was set up to change the way medical packaging was done in the health sector in the country. It was also a platform meant to ensure proper sterilisation of sensitive materials used in hospitals.
“Prior to that time, I had been in the paid employment where I tried to create a change in the health sector,” she says.
“The more I went in, the more I saw things that were not done right,” she confesses.
She wants to change the way medical packaging is done in the health sector and promote excellence in theatres and central sterile services departments (CSSDs). She has a new set of packaging materials that are hygienic and meet international standards.
Something prompted the Anambra State-born entrepreneur to take medical packaging very seriously.
“In my journey in the health sector, I discovered that CSSDs are non- existent in many hospitals. In teaching hospitals, they have them, but CSSDs are non-existent in most of the general hospitals. It is the operating theatres that do most of the sterilisation instruments they use,” she explains.
“Having moved around, I discovered that the materials they are using to package the surgical instruments are not of right standards. You find that most of the general hospitals, teaching hospitals, federal medical centres and leading private hospitals use brown envelopes, which are just wrapping sheets with no microbial barriers. In other words, they cannot prevent microbes from entering the instruments. I also discovered that some teaching hospitals and federal medical centres use the papers to wrap sensitive things. I also discovered, again, that some use calicos and re-use them many times. Sometimes, the sight of these calicos is horrible and these are things they use to package instruments that will be used on human beings,” she laments.
She had to take the bull by the horns to change this phenomenon.
“This is why I asked, ‘What can I do differently?’ ‘How do I come in?’ This was how I started doing research. Some medical personnel said they were using envelopes because those were what they knew,” she says.
But use of envelopes is a recipe for disaster as it can transmit infections from one person to another, she says.
She says if a HIV-virus patient goes through surgery and the instruments are not sterilised, there is a possibility that the next patient that is going on surgery will get that virus.
She, however, says that when the right packaging materials are used, the instruments will be sterilised properly, which, in turn, prevent microbes from feeding on the products.
“We started going on awareness training, moved round general hospitals, medical centres and went to the ORs to train the nurses on the availability of these products and why they needed to use the m,” she says, when asked how she started.
Her campaign is yielding fruits as a number of hospitals and healthcare centres now realise the danger of the traditional use of envelopes and other unhygienic materials during surgeries and treatment.
“The reception has been very good,” she says.
“It is not as if some of them do not know what is right. Some make excuses for themselves; some make excuses for patients and for the hospitals. Right now, I am not only trying to sell the products. I want to make sure that you and I can actually be on that operating table and feel secure,” she says.
So far, over 40 hospitals have accepted her message.
“When I started, I went to elite private hospitals. But at some point, I had to change a strategy to reach others,” the 40-year-old entrepreneur says.
Being from the South-East part of Nigeria, she has been able to get 15 hospitals to accept her message and products.
“A teaching hospital in the South-East has phased out brown paper completely. They said they did not know a product like ours existed. They also use our surgical parts,” she discloses.
Alu says that the hospitals complained initially that her products were expensive, but later realised that they were relatively cheaper.
“I asked them to go back and do the cost analysis on what they were using and the consequences, side by side with what I was offering them. It was at that point that some of them went home and did the cost analysis and told us to bring the products.”
“I said to them, ‘Sell safety to the patients because this life does not have any duplicate. If I know I am going to get a value from what I am paying for, obviously I will pay for it. Remove that brown paper which you buy at N50, because you end up giving them HIV virus for life. The cost of life is not N50. We are trying to create a change in perception,” she says.
The entrepreneur combines her role as a mother and entrepreneur so well that neither is affected. She attributes this to good planning.
She is a mentee of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI)’s Mentorship Programme. She says the mentorship programme has changed her perception about business and money, enabling to properly.