Iyeza Express – Medicine on Wheels

Twenty-one-year-old bicyclist Sizwe Nzima is making a difference one delivery at a time 

On a pink and grey-tinged morning in Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, 21-year old Sizwe Nzima whizzes his bicycle along a potholed road as three shaggy-tailed dogs yap enthusiastically at his feet. He stops at a peach-coloured house where an older lady is waiting for him, her hand already twisting the key in the lock as he gives her a friendly, “Molweni!”

Freda, a woman who’s suffered from illness since 2007, is always happy to see Sizwe because in her eyes he is a godsend. In the past, Freda would get up at four in the morning to make the long journey to the clinic where she has been collecting chronic medication every month, only to have to wait in the excruciatingly long queues. She would be up before the sun to be one of the first people in line so that she could come back and take care of an elderly relative, but ever since Sizwe started Iyeza Express, a delivery service that drops prescriptions off to more than 250 residents in the township by bicycle, she has been able to stay home and manage all her responsibilities. Her friend Betty, who lives just three or four houses away, also makes use of Sizwe’s services, relieved at not having to spend up to five hours waiting to get her medicine.

“He’s a good helper,” Betty says, looking at Sizwe. “I don’t have to stand in a queue. I can sit at home for five months, hey?”

“Yes,” he laughs, “you only have to go there for the check-up now.”

Iyeza Express operates from two major hospitals in Khayelitsha, one in Site B and one in Harare, and according to Sizwe, there are between 6000 and 7000 patients who collect chronic medication at just one of these clinics. For most, being able to take advantage of the young entrepreneur’s service would be far from just a matter of convenience. Without it, the ill, some of whom are too sick and weak to get out of bed, would have to spend long, arduous hours in the queues or otherwise go without life-saving medicine for illnesses like TB, which is treated with a long course of antibiotics.

Sizwe saw firsthand the burden of medicine collection at clinics – the cost of transport, the time spent waiting, the cost to have someone look after children left at home or the loss of pay due to missing work – when he would sit amongst the ailing elderly waiting to collect medicine for his grandparents, who raised him while his mother worked in Johannesburg. The concept of Iyeza Express grew from his grandmother spreading the word of the simple yet invaluable service that he provided.

“You know what old ladies are like, my grandma told me she knows another lady that gets chronic medication from the same hospital, then she knows two other ladies, so that’s how we started.” His words are punctuated with enthusiasm and hand gestures, and he occasionally stops to greet passers-by and laugh loudly at a friendly joke.

Together with four other guys on bikes, Sizwe collects and delivers medicine twice a month, depending on his clients’ needs, at a cost of just R10. The business started with two bicycles bought with a R10 000 prize he won for being the best entrepreneurial student at the Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development, where he took part in a six-month programme and expanded the model of Iyeza Express as part of his coursework. More funding came from the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Awards, which awarded Sizwe and Iyeza a R100 000 seed grant to further develop this innovative, potentially life-saving service and afford more bikes and helpers to carry out the deliveries.

At the moment, he is in talks with the Department of Health to not only subsidise the project (Sizwe has been studying the department’s budget and knows there is a section of funding for a home delivery service for the Chronic Dispensing Unit), but to also work out regulations and procedures, like clinic protocol and proper medicine handling, in order to make the process as efficient and safe as possible.

“The aim of Iyeza Express is to give everyone health access,” says Sizwe. “People need good health access despite their income, despite where they live – it’s a basic human right.” 

The hope is that if Iyeza Express does win a contract from the Department of Health, the business can eventually deliver for free, but right now hard work is being put into developing a concrete model that can be easily replicated in other neighbourhoods. The demand is already growing; people in other sections of Khayelitsha and even in Gugulethu want to sign up for the service, but they’ll have to wait until there’s enough funding for more bicycles and manpower.

Apart from being a local sensation due to word-of-mouth, Sizwe was also one of five South Africans to be featured in Forbes’s 30 Under 30: Africa’s Best Young Entrepreneurs of 2013, an achievement, he says, that only motivates him to work even harder. “I don’t know how Forbes found me!” he chuckles. “But this is the time when I make sure that I stay in the magazine and that I deliver what people expect.”

Sizwe considers himself to be a social entrepreneur living a philosophy taught by Raymond Ackerman himself – doing good is good business. However, the spark that really ignited Sizwe’s ambition was a speech where the speaker elicited the response to the call of “Amandla!”, which means ‘the power’ in isiXhosa. The audience’s response, “Ngawethu”, means ‘to us’, and the point, said the speech-giver, is the acknowledgment that you have the power to change the world by replying to the shout of power. That, Sizwe recalls, was the moment that he knew it was time to act because it was up to no one else but himself.

The power seems to be within many of his peers as well, and Sizwe is working with two of his friends to develop other projects that enrich Khayelitsha along with Iyeza Express; one is a recycling scheme that encourages people to bring recyclable material in exchange for food and clothing vouchers (in partnership with a project called TrashBack), and the other is a gangster museum that hopes to help combat the problem of violence and give ex-cons a second chance in the community.

In the meantime though, Sizwe has more than enough to keep him occupied as he looks for ways to make everyone’s experience of the public health care system a better one and position his service as a trusted brand in Khayelitsha and beyond. 

“Iyeza Express is a community development project,” Sizwe adds when asked to consider what impression he wants his business to give, “the purpose is also to employ members of the community to be runners, to deliver and to be management, making it not just about health care access but about job creation too.”

It’s a lot to take on, but when you’re a 21-year old who’s already made it into Forbes and who has more empathy and determination than most people, the only possible direction to go in is up.

By: Tshego Letsoalo

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