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Bringing Affordable Health Care to the Global Poor

Article by Eric G. Bing May 13, 2013 //   3 minute read


This post written by Eric B. Bing, Bush Institute Director of Global Health and co-author of Pharmacy on a Bicycle, originally appeared on the World Affairs Council Blog

The world is at a crossroads in health care.  Though there have been great advances in global health in the past two decades, millions of people continue to needlessly die due to lack of basic care – just as the 7 million children each year who fail to make it to their fifth birthday.  There are many threats to foreign aid, yet there is still so much to be done.  The global health community is desperately looking for financially sustainable ways to bring health care to the poor – to reach more people for less money.  We have the medical know-how; where we continually fall short is in getting what works to those who need it in ways that they will use it and at a price they can afford.  This is not a medical problem, it’s a distribution problem.

Fortunately, we now have the necessary tools to begin to cross that final mile in global health to bring medical care to those who for too long have gone without.

In our recently published book, Pharmacy on a Bicycle, Marc Epstein and I show how business approaches, innovation and entrepreneurship can help cross that final mile and solve global challenges of poverty and health. The central models and examples focus on building on many of the successful new approaches that are already working in a variety of places and on using existing infrastructures to improve lives. Organizations like Living Goods, companies like Narayana Hrudayalaya and governments like in Rwanda are using innovative and entrepreneurial approaches save lives by delivering care as basic clean water and vaccinations to complex like cardiac surgery in low cost ways and more financially sustainable ways.   Those successes – and many more – can be created and replicated around the world.

By using business approaches – which focus on efficiency, quality and cutting costs – we can save money and lives simultaneously. Making use of franchise models like the Child and Family Wellness Shops in Kenya and Rwanda would allow us to take advantage of economies of scale and of local entrepreneurs’ tacit and local knowledge to both bring people what they need and knowledgably sell them on the idea that they need the health care goods being offered. Moreover, entrepreneurial approaches do not have to be relegated to the businesses only but can be used by NGOs and governments as well, bringing better care to more people in  efficient and inexpensive ways.