Kyle Poplin

Weekly Roundup – 10/4/13: Global health can’t afford a shutdown

Experts tell us that a key to achieving global health is focus. As we’ve seen this week, the bigger the organization, the harder it is to focus.

The U.S. made worldwide headlines when its government literally quit working because it couldn’t reach a consensus over health care. About 800,000 federal workers were furloughed while the politics played out over a plan to make sure all Americans could afford to get sick. The sticking point was not resources, but process. (Although some on the political right in the U.S. will vehemently disagree with that characterization.)

As this played out, 3BL Media reminded us that there are only about 800 days left to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) set by world leaders in 2000 to reduce child and maternal deaths across the planet. It’s mind-boggling – and a bit depressing – to consider the obstacles that must be overcome to reach these goals, when at the same time we saw a resource-rich country shut down because it couldn’t get a health care plan over a comparatively miniscule set of obstacles.

Then we read the NextBillion Health Care blog by Eleni Vlachos of the International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery. She highlights four undaunted firms in India that, through innovation and intense focus, are developing sustainable and successful health care operations. IPIHD is organizing tours so these firms can share their success stories with corporate and foundation supporters and business leaders. The plan is to export the business models across borders worldwide.

Dr. Prashant Deshmukh, the general manager for business development at Narayana Health, explained his firm’s approach: “Today, the health care industry needs more process innovation than product innovation. The industry does not need a magic pill or the fastest scanner or a new procedure, but instead requires improvements that lower the cost of medical attention and make it more widely available.”

Steve Davis, president and chief executive officer of PATH, writing for the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, would agree with Deshmukh. “Chlorhexidine is a workhorse antiseptic that’s been around since the 1950s,” Davis wrote in a piece about the logjams impacting health care innovation. “It’s inexpensive, effective and safe. In low-resource countries, it could be a powerful solution to an unacceptable tragedy: the preventable deaths of hundreds of thousands of newborns every year from infection.”

The problems? “Regulatory hurdles, supply issues, misconceptions about guidelines for umbilical cord care, and a nascent market for the new product formulation all contribute to (chlorhexidine’s) limited availability and adoption in developing countries.”

Leith Greenslade, co-chair of the Child Health Pillar of the MDG Health Alliance, knows all about such hurdles. He told 3BL Media: “We need a massive focused global effort. We need everyone working on the right set of challenges, we need everyone working on the leading causes of maternal and child death. It may surprise some people in the room to realize that we haven’t been doing that.”

Well, it probably wouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been watching the U.S. Congress in action.

But for many business, NGO and development leaders, all working toward the goal of achieving MDGs, refining the process to avoid a failure, or in our context, a shutdown – the process is the product.

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Product Development for the Poor : A crash course in human-centered design By Lisa Kienzle

The Future of Impact Investing: A conversation with Sasha Dichter, Acumen’s Chief Innovation Officer By James Militzer

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