3 ingredients to ensure health and well-being for all in emerging economies

A health worker attends to a patient at the Philips Community Life Center in Kenya. The health facility goes beyond health care by also turning it into a community hub where technology is bundled with services. Photo by: Royal Philips

As part of society, all of us — including companies — have an obligation to contribute to the positive state of the world. There is great opportunity in aligning business objectives with societal challenges and to create business solutions that generate both financial as well as lasting social impact. For example, Sustainable Development Goal 3, achieving healthy lives for all, is a major global challenge that needs to be addressed, and even more so in emerging economies where access to quality, affordable health care is not a given. But this challenge is not insurmountable.

While many emerging economies have made improvements in the delivery of health care, Philips is convinced that a radical transformation of health systems is needed to realize the goal of equitable access. But due to the complexity of health systems, it is paramount that all transformations are done through partnerships, and are grounded in innovation along the entire continuum of health.  

We believe we must embrace the SDGs and take our responsibility to help realize them. So Philips has set a target of improving 3 billion lives a year by 2025, with the aim of making the world more healthy and sustainable through meaningful innovation.

There are three critical ingredients to ensure the implementation of this goal:

1. Putting in place new business models based on shared-values;
2. Developing new and sustainable financing mechanisms for health care; and
3. Investing in local-for-local innovation.

Creative thinking needed

Strengthening health care must start with primary health care for people in individual communities. Creating new ways of delivering care where it’s needed will build stronger and more resilient communities and make health care much more accessible and affordable to people at the right time. It also reduces the burden on emergency and acute care — which is a persistent challenge in all health systems.

We are encouraged to see strong examples of this, showing us what future health systems might look like. For example, in 2014 Philips opened its first Community Life Center in Kenya, a country with one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. Local stakeholders — first and foremost the people in the community, health workers, government at national and local level and humanitarian partners — were involved in the entire development process to encourage community ownership.

Through renting out space for commercial services, the facility generates revenues, contributing to its financial sustainability. In less than one year, we have witnessed 4,000 people a month seeking care at the facility, up from 1,000 a month previously, many of these pregnant women and children.

We continue to measure the impact and performance of the facility with the community and are making improvements where needed to understand how to scale this service with partners to other communities and strengthen community based primary health care as key pillar under sustainable health care systems.

Innovate how health care is funded

In countries like Kenya, huge investments are needed to create the type of radical transformation that leapfrogs from the current status into a future health care system, which addresses the demand for health care, and recognizes the economic value of health for all, while making health care affordable. Such significant investments need new approaches to financing.

And it’s vital that we in the private sector are able to personalize our approach too, so that the solutions we offer are tailored to meet the different challenges faced by communities. Whether that be through public-private partnerships, outcome or performance-based financing, innovative risk pooling schemes, or health care saving methods for people on the fringes or outside the health care system.

Working closer with governments, donors and financing institutions is also important, in order to better understand how quality health services can be delivered to the people that need it. We should continue to explore how to support governments and community-based humanitarian organizations to develop shared-value business models that leverage grant money from donors and combine domestic and private resources where available to improve health care service delivery. Importantly, when thinking about blended financing scenarios we must always operate in full transparency and accountability with the end-goal in mind, to deliver improved health care.

Invest in local-for-local innovation

Mobile and connected technologies available today will allow entire health care systems to leapfrog their current state and expand access to care to millions more people. Moreover, investing in local-for-local innovation has the added benefit of developing local talent and the economy at the same time. It’s important that the governments lay the grounds to support local innovators and provide a marketplace that implements the best innovations at scale.

Philips is supporting local innovators and labs in Kenya and India, as well as testing proof-of-concept innovations in many more countries to compound and sustain the benefit of local-for-local innovation. In September, for example, the Philips Foundation and UNICEF, together with Concern Worldwide, Maker and Gearbox, kicked off their first joint development project: the Kenya Maker for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Project. Together with partner organizations, local innovation hubs and the government, we aim to develop and scale-up innovative, low-cost and locally designed health care devices that can contribute to improved and more equitable access to lifesaving quality care for women and children across Kenya.

Another example is in Indonesia, where alongside universities, entrepreneurs and in partnership with government and humanitarian organizations, we’re delivering smartphone-based telehealth solutions for midwives to monitor at-risk pregnant women.

We must do it together

Partnerships are instrumental to the implementation of the new sustainable development agenda. And the private sector will drive this momentum, because it's good for people, it's good for the planet and it's good for business. But this is not about philanthropy — it’s about innovating the business model of health care that will lead to shared-value. Only then does the radical transformation become scalable.

The SDGs provide a clear compass, a shared agenda for improving the lives of people around the world, starting from people-focused needs. Through meaningful innovation in how we deliver and fund health care services, we can make this a success, making the world healthier and more sustainable.

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Ronald de Jong

    Ronald de Jong is the chief market leader and member of the Royal Philips Executive Committee with the responsibility to strengthen Philips’ focus on customers and markets. He also serves as the chairman of the board of the Philips Foundation. The Philips Foundation is an independent entity as well as a registered charity. It is set-up to enable lasting social change in disadvantaged communities through the provision and application of innovation, talent and resources provided by Philips.