Bringing Cutting-Edge Health Care to Emerging Markets

Besides importing medical devices and training staff, Ascendis repairs equipment locally, reducing cost and downtime. © Ascendis

Gwen Burger, a young South African woman, suffered from the painful symptoms of uterine fibroids. In addition to the severe discomfort, dealing with the condition interfered with her ability to work a full day at her sales job. In fact, her blood loss was so severe, she was hospitalized three times for treatment of low iron.

The condition led five different medical specialists to recommend a hysterectomy.  But the required six-week recovery period was too long to go without a paycheck, and surgery would have prevented her from bearing children.

Luckily for her, there was a new option available locally: Uterine Fibroid Embolization (UFE). In countries with more developed systems for advanced health care, this minimally invasive treatment is widely available. In emerging markets, few hospitals have the sophisticated equipment required to perform the procedure. But Burger’s doctor works in collaboration with Ascendis Health, which provided the technology for her life-changing surgery.

Ascendis Health, a South African health and care company, promotes access to modern medical devices in developing countries in situations just like Burger’s.  She was able to have the UFE procedure, which kept her out of work for just three days, and preserved her ability to bear children.


A Healthy Model for Medicine

Ascendis’ Medical Device subdivision is a “one-stop shop” for private and public hospitals, labs, and specialist surgeons. It imports and trains staff on a wide range of cutting-edge medical devices and equipment. It offers service agreements to maintain and repair equipment locally, reducing cost and downtime.

The company also sells affordable generic drugs through dispensing doctors, which allows people in remote or rural areas of South Africa to have more access to medicine. In addition, it supplies drugs to relief organizations that work with refugees and people living in fragile and conflict-affected countries. The company has helped about 2.2 million people with access to generic medications, and expects to reach a total of 3.2 million people by 2020.

IFC’s recent investment of $30 million in Ascendis Health supported the acquisition of Cyprus-based Remedica—a generic pharmaceutical company with a presence in over 100 countries and about 80 percent of its sales in emerging markets. The deal transformed Ascendis from a South African venture with a growing health product portfolio into a multinational offering thousands of latest generation medicines, including for important diseases such as cancer and diabetes.


A Better Quality of Life

Demand for better health goods and services is growing rapidly amid rising incomes and aging populations in developing countries, and IFC is committed to bringing affordable high-quality healthcare into emerging markets. IFC’s investment in Ascendis fits within this strategy by helping efficient manufacturers and distributors grow and enter new markets.

This approach to health care has already made a tremendous positive difference to Burger, whose UFE treatment has fulfilled her hopes. “This has finally improved my quality of life,” she says. “Without this, I would have lost my womb and been off from work, which I cannot afford to do.”

Read more about Ascendis in the report Achieving Pharma and Medical Synergies through Mergers and Acquisitions

To learn more about IFC’s work in health, visit

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Published in January 2017


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