Al Hammond Shares the Latest in Bottom-of-the-Pyramid Innovations

Monday, August 2, 2010

Al Hammond belongs in the same category with CK Prahalad and Stuart Hart as some of the world’s pioneering bottom-of-the-pyramid researchers and strategists, and Hammond has specifically targeted rural connectivity and health care. From the World Resources Institute, where he authored the pivotal research report, The Next 4 Billion, to Ashoka, where he forges links between private companies and citizen sector organizations, whatever Hammond is working on at the moment is something you know you need to keep your eye on.

In this vein, caught up with Hammond to find out the latest and greatest in the bottom-of-the-pyramid field, and we also got the lowdown on his newest venture, Healthpoint Services Global, Inc.

Tell me about your latest venture, Healthpoint Services Global, Inc.

Healthpoint Services is trying to transform rural health care by providing high quality primary care at prices that low-income people can afford to pay. We use four technologies that did not exist or were not affordable five years ago–advanced water treatment, rural broadband, telemedical software, and advanced point-of-care diagnostics. The key innovation is to put preventive care (access to safe drinking water) together with curative care (access to doctors, diagnostics, and medicines) in a modern, purpose-built clinic in a rural village. We think that most public rural health care systems fail to deliver quality, reliable care, even if they are free, and most other attempts have been what I call Healthcare Lite (the doctor comes once a week, the village health care worker is supposed to do everything, etc.). We invest to build a modern clinic, because we thing that reliable presence (eight hours a day, six days a week) is essential to change expectations and behaviors–which is critical to really changing health care; in India, that means getting people to abandon the quacks–completely untrained people who pretend to deliver health care–and use our services instead. And since there are no doctors, practically speaking, in rural areas, we have to import the talent over broadband (two-way video conferencing, with electronic medical records) from an urban area. This is a fee-for-service, cash business, but the technology enables us to keep costs low enough to be affordable–$1 to see a doctor or have a diagnostic test; $1.50 for a family’s monthly supply of water.

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