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Posted at 1:46 PM ET, 01/29/2011

Improving access to health care in the developing world

By Kate Roberts

As Davos is in full swing, one of the agenda items that seems to be dominating the agenda is improving access to health care in the developing world. Among the gaps are infrastructure, workforce, building local capacity, access to medicine and funding mechanisms.

The Forum, together with its civil, public sector and corporate members, is taking a look at delivery models that can offer high quality, low-cost solutions that can be taken to scale. Two of these effective solutions are social franchising, a model developed by my organization, PSI, and technologies that access mobile health in remote areas. Let me give you an example of social franchising.

This year I had the amazing opportunity to swap jobs with the executive director of PSI Myanmar, John Hetherington. I spent a divine month in Myanmar learning how to do the real work in the field and the challenges that go with that. I spent time interacting with donors, government partners and health care providers, experiencing their fascinating social franchising model, "The Sun Quality Health Network." I truly believe this is the next big thing in health care delivery. In Myanmar public health expenditure is very low, forcing the poor to the private sector for most of their health care, which traditionally has been too expensive. Health providers also lacked expertise and medicines. With 67 percent of the population living in rural areas, making health accessible and affordable is vital and a priority. This is where social franchising comes in and it is a great example of how PSI works through the private sector effectively and measurably to reach the poor with integrated health care services.

The technique is simple, PSI locates existing private sector health care providers and clinic owners, trains them in all aspects of health care, in exchange for access to highly subsidized drugs as well as regular trainings and visits from medical experts and promoters, who will keep them up to date with new health care interventions and services such as intrauterine devices for family planning. Their clinics will then be branded with a trusted name, in this case Sun Quality Health, which PSI then promotes to build up the client base. Under one roof a family can receive most of its integrated health care needs for a low cost with guaranteed high quality within accessible locations. PSI, together with the private-sector medical providers, now has a presence in 170 townships, they have seen about 1 million women per year for family planning services alone - taking the opportunity on that visit to discuss malaria and HIV prevention, TB treatment and other child survival interventions such as water purification and nutrition. The Sun Quality health providers are now set to bring vital cervical cancer screening at the clinics for less than a dollar per patient and also exploring how it can provide high-quality HIV treatment at scale to patients throughout the network.

This successful model is achieving a positive health impact in a highly challenging market and I am pleased to say that PSI has similar programs in 25 other countries, it proves that this model can work anywhere in the world. So I am hopeful that social franchising is discussed further at Davos, which leads to greater investment in this highly effective and low-cost solution.

I am left with a memory of the wonderful smiling people of Myanmar, some of the nicest people I have ever met on any of my travels around the world. One thing is for sure: I feel good about the future of their health care and its sustainability.

Kate Roberts leads the corporate marketing and communications departments of PSI. Kate is the founder and executive director of YouthAIDS and Five & Alive, two marketing programs of PSI. Before her role at PSI, Roberts worked with Bates, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising.

Return to the Insiders' Guide to Davos 2011 page

By Kate Roberts  | January 29, 2011; 1:46 PM ET
Categories:  Kate Roberts  
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