Health is a prerequisite for any kind of development. No matter whether humans, animals or plants: Those who are sick cannot develop their full potential. Unfortunately, not only do millions of people today still lack access to basic medicines and quality health services, but our entire planetary system is sick.
The importance of health is undisputed in all cultures and countries, and yet we are unable to provide adequate health services and medicines to those who need them most. In addition, the last 2.5 years with Covid-19 have shown us in unprecedented ways how health status can impact global supply chains and the world economy as a whole.
Forty-four years ago, at the World Health Conference in Alma Ata, Kazakhstan, the World Health Organization (WHO) and its Member States defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity; health is a fundamental human right; and the attainment of the highest attainable standard of health is a major global social goal, the achievement of which requires action by many other social and economic sectors in addition to the health sector.”
By the year 2000, everyone should have had access to basic primary health care. "Health for all by the year 2000" was the catchy jingle in Alma Ata in 1978. Twenty-two years after the target year, we know that this has still not been achieved. The reasons for this are many. Without being a public health expert, one reason in particular stands out to me: The burden of achieving health for all has rested solely on the health sector. The responsibility for transforming the health system with better, available and affordable health services and medicines rested entirely on the shoulders of the public health sector. Based on the WHO definition (see above), it was indeed clear that the support and contribution of other sectors were needed if "health for all" was to become a reality. But, as is often the case, there has been a failure to collaborate across sectors and move out of the silos in which we are all accustomed to working. Today, one of the targets of the SDGs is achieving universal health coverage. One can just hope that this time the silos are opened and other sectors become actively engaged as well.
I had the privilege of starting my career in international development cooperation in the health sector in the Philippines more than 25 years ago. One of the challenges we faced was improving access to health services and to affordable medicines for the poor. To this end, we developed, among other things, a revolving fund for the purchase of essential generic medicines, established a local foundation to manage the fund, and provided a standard package of services and basic medicines for small health stations throughout the country. Later, this approach came to be called social franchising. What was new at the time was that we developed it jointly with the national Ministry of Health but put it in the hands of a private entity. We believed that the private sector could do more to achieve better access to affordable health services and medicines and could manage it better in the long run.
In this issue of CLUED-iN, you will find a number of examples of companies that are involved in the health sector and helping to make "health for all" a reality, rather than taking another 44 years. For example, there is an Indian platform that provides access to more affordable medicines. By buying in bulk, they get the drugs at a lower price and can reduce the cost of patients' medicines by 50 per cent. It's a similar approach to the one we took in the Philippines 25 years ago, but this time digital platforms are being used to reach patients, distribute the medicines, raise awareness, and contribute to health education. Another innovative approach is the “Health Games” developed in Kenya. From Ghana, we have information about an interesting health insurance scheme developed through a public-private partnership (SAGABI).
Health, which the WHO defines as more than the absence of disease, requires multi-sectoral approaches. Companies with an inclusive business model that puts the poor at the centre have enormous potential to contribute to the goal of "Health for All." Therefore, such companies need more support to scale up, as their business models directly contribute to improving human life. With the interviews in this issue of CLUED-iN we get a glimpse of some of the innovative ways forward in the health sector.