How this pharmacist’s formula for connection is changing lives in Mombasa

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Our Storyteller embarked on a trip to Mombasa to visit the pharmacists, shopkeepers, doctors, community-based organisations, and Tiko users who all form part of our ecosystems of impact in neighbourhoods. This is the first in a series of profiles of the people with whom we engaged. Visit our blog to read more stories from the field as they are published.

At the back of Wilmos Pharmacy in Mombasa, Prexedes Martha Matele ushers patients to take a seat at her desk. “Welcome to the dispensary,” she says, “we have much more privacy here than in the front.” As pharmacies in Mombasa go, this one is substantial. Neat rows of bright boxes and bottles line the shelves, all arranged according to what they treat (“These are the cough mixtures, and then we have things for the stomach, and here’s the toothpaste.”). But at the back, issues more complex than which toothpaste to buy are discussed.

In Mombasa County, the HIV rate among youths is over two percentage points higher than the national average, so Prexedes and her team at Wilmos play an important role on the ground in their neighbourhood of Bamburi. They provide a space for youth to ask questions and receive free treatment through Tiko, our digital platform that connects youth to healthcare.

“We are the pioneers of Tiko, and this experience has given me a lot of energy because I’ve been able to serve so many girls,” Prexedes says. Our partnership with Prexedes began in 2017, and she is an enthusiastic frontrunner for our platform that serves youth with an array of health and wellness services. “Caring for young girls and working with them is my passion,” she says. Prexedes used to work for a pharmaceutical company, but bought this site and established Wilmos to have more direct engagement with young people.

Through Tiko and our partnerships, Prexedes is able to offer free and life-changing service to youth. Since 2017, over 6 500 services have been taken up at Wilmos. More than 2 500 girls have been served at the pharmacy, with oral contraceptives being their most popular choice, followed by the more recent offering of HIV self-testing kits. Eighteen- and 19-year-old teenage girls are the most frequent customers at Wilmos for Tiko services, and the trend forecast shows that the overall number of patients will continue to increase steadily (as it has done year-on-year since 2017, barring 2020 when Covid-19 lockdowns prohibited in-person shopping). All of this detailed information and many more granular statistics are available for our team to access at any time. Because of our digital approach to data collection and verification, we know exactly how much impact we’re having where, and for whom.

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At Wilmos, family planning options for girls are varied from oral contraceptives to injectables, and the HIV self-testing kits are available for teenagers and young men and women. “I have very good relationships with the girls because I bring them near,” Prexedes says. “Sex is very personal, so if they don’t trust me, I can’t help them.” After decades in this sector and raising four children of her own, Prexedes has realised the key to care: connection. Without it, patients are much less likely to open up, receive treatment, and own their health. “Because we give them the right knowledge at the right time, we avoid unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and we keep girls in school,” Prexedes says.

When asked to reflect on the future of youth for Mombasa, Prexedes was upbeat: “I’ve seen a lot of change. When young people know their status, they educate themselves and know what they’re doing.” With advances in HIV treatment and the alleviation of community stigma, this disease is no longer insurmountable. “Medication is changing and life is changing,” Prexedes says. “When I was a girl, there were none of these things. Now, it’s so easy. There’s so much information.” Knowing that women, mothers, and healthcare providers like Prexedes are on the frontlines for the youth of Mombasa is encouraging, and we look forward to many more years of partnership with her and her team.

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