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Delivering Health Care With a Smile, Mile After Mile

June 19, 2013 by Suraj Patel

Sizwe Nzima, a young entrepreneur in South Africa, was recently recognized by Mail&Guardian as one of South Africa’s 200 young leaders who are shaping the country’s future.  Sizwe has taken an entrepreneurial approach to solving a problem far too common in developing nations – the inability to get medications simply because the pharmacy is too far away.  Often, individuals living in rural communities and congested urban communities are unable to get their regular medication because traveling the distance to the pharmacy would mean time away from work and family, which they cannot afford.  Others are too sick to get to the pharmacy and do not have relatives who can help. Rather than making patients go to the pharmacy, Sizwe hops on his bike and brings the pharmacy to them – with a smile.   He charges them a modest amount for the service, which is far less expensive than if they had to miss time from work or family obligations.  The bicycle is not only helpful in rural settings, but also in congested urban settings or where roads are in extremely poor condition. 

“My role in the community is to take the stress off people,” Sizwe explains. “Some people have to go to work and they get home late…Some of the people have to take care of children. Some of them are critically ill. My role is to make their lives easier by providing a convenient service to them that is actually affordable.” He also realizes the potential of capable, young entrepreneurs who can be leveraged to create a greater impact. “This is a really perfect opportunity for young people…You don’t need a degree to ride a bike. You get them on a bike, give them bags, and they start delivering.”

Sizwe is not alone in taking innovative and entrepreneurial approaches to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Emerging leaders throughout the world are working to tackle the many social problems faced in low-income communities. With their make-it-happen spirit, they are addressing issues around education, health and women’s empowerment, among others.  Organizations, like Living Goods in Uganda and VisionSpring in India, use a network of local entrepreneurs to distribute basic health products to low-income communities.

At the Bush Institute, we are focused on empowering communities to help themselves realize their full potential. In our recently released book, Pharmacy on a Bicycle, we spotlight a number of innovative and entrepreneurial solutions that are working to improve the health of the world’s poor. Many of these homegrown solutions provide care by building upon systems and networks that already exist within communities. Similarly, the Bush Institute’s inaugural program in Global Health, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, leverages existing assets within countries and communities to support African governments in the fight against cervical and breast cancer. This public-private partnership assists government health systems in expanding coverage of life-saving screening and treatment. A critical component of the program is increasing awareness of cancer, something that entrepreneurs like Sizwe and those that work with Living Goods and VisionSpring can assist with. Moreover, as low-income communities show their willingness to pay out-of-pocket for services like cervical cancer treatment, these entrepreneurs will play an increasingly important role in filling the gaps in global health that governments and donor-supported programs are unable to address.

By using what already works, innovative and entrepreneurial solutions, like those described above and many more, have the ability to dramatically improve the lives of millions around the world.