Al Hammond

Global Health in the News

Bill Clinton and Bill Gates held forth Wednesday afternoon at the Time Global Health Summit in New York City. Both have made global health issues a priority through their foundations, and both received a standing ovation for the work that they have done. What was fascinating was how much they shared the same strategies, priorities, and sense of urgency?even though Clinton is focusing on working with governments while Gates focuses on funding science and working with global health agencies.

The conference was tied to the launch of the PBS series Rx for Survival airing this week and special coverage of global health issues in this week’s Time magazine. The event covered the big three infectious diseases (malaria, TB, AIDS), the threat on an avian flue pandemic, and other topics. It finishes today.

Among the more controversial issues discussed was the role of the private sector in global health issues?with both big pharma and social marketing taking some criticism as well as being defended. In a session explicitly devoted to the question of whether global health can be good business, Professor C.K. Prahalad stressed the long haul nature of the fight against disease and hence the need for economically sustainable models, saying ?No amount of philanthropy will solve the problem.? He also argued that even very poor people should pay something for health care to maintain their sense of dignity. Trevor Neilson of the Global Business Coalition for AIDS also argued for greater business involvement and more political leadership, pointing out that the Global Fund for malaria, TB, and AIDS will run out of money next year. But in other sessions, speakers told of reluctance to buy preventive measures such as anti-malarial bednets and argued that health care was a human right, not a consumer service. One explanation for consumer reluctance, especially in Africa, may be the high prevalence of fraudulent drugs and hence treatments that don?t work, only now being policed and cleaned up in some countries.

In any event, it is clear that those who believe that private sector approaches can play an important role in health care in low income communities in developing countries?especially where public sector systems do not have the capacity to provide adequate service?still have some persuading to do; affordable, scalable models may have to be demonstrated before there will be broader acceptance.

In that context, we will shortly be releasing a new case study of a franchised health care system in Kenya. The non-profit Sustainable Healthcare Enterprise Foundation (SHEF) was founded in 1997 to make healthcare more affordable and accessible to underserved Kenyans. With locations in underserved villages and urban areas throughout Kenya, the Foundation’s franchised HealthStore pharmacies provide access to much-needed healthcare, while generating enough revenue to pay their nurse-owners and staff a competitive annual salary. The executive summary of the case will be posted tomorrow, followed by a series of posts over the next week that highlight other examples of initiatives providing health care to the poor.