Rob van Tulder on partnerships for health at the Africa Day 2015
On November 7th, PharmAccess, a non-profit organization that seeks to make quality healthcare accessible in Africa, hosted a discussion at the annual Africa Day at the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam. The topic of the session was 'Making health markets work for the poor: leveraging public funds to generate private investments'. Professor Rob van Tulder, was part of the panel which consisted of different players with varied knowledge of healthcare in Africa, e.g. public financiers, social innovators, academics and first-hand experience within the health sector.
Guido Geerts, CEO and partner of various companies in healthcare technology represented the private sector. He presented his companies' innovative technology and how it is contributing to the provision of better quality healthcare. Furthermore, Dr. Tony Aidoo the Ambassador of Ghana to the Netherlands gave his perspective on healthcare, outlining both the challenges and opportunities within the Ghanaian healthcare sector. Chudi Ukpabi, cross-cultural communication expert, gave the discussion personal perspective based on the experiences of his family in Nigeria. Mrs. Aaltje de Roos, Senior Policy Officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave an overview of how the partnerships within the Health Insurance Fund had helped drive a holistic approach to strengthening health markets and improving health outcomes for the poor.
Creating an enabling environment
The main thrust of the discussion was the complementarity of the private sector in providing public goods, including healthcare, and how the public sector can create an enabling environment for such partnerships to work effectively.
In Ghana, the government has introduced health insurance to finance healthcare. Ambassador Tony Aidoo indicated that the challenges of the National Health Insurance Scheme also bring along opportunities for private players. Moreover, he emphasized that the government provides health care through public hospitals, but most people get care from smaller local facilities. The other challenge, he said, is lack of human capital. Most of the trained medical professionals leave the country or are usually concentrated in urban facilities, leaving the rural facilities with a huge human resources gap.
Guido Geerts illustrated how high impact social investments can fit within the PPP model, while tackling problems such as brain drain. Drawing from his own experience, Chudi Ukpabi remarked that for most ordinary people in Africa the concept of PPPs in healthcare was well-known. He further emphasized the importance of having private clinics and argued that people are willing to pay for them if the quality of care is good. Most people however do not know what good quality healthcare is. The success of a public private partnership therefore depends on how quality is communicated to the public and the extent to which trust in the system is built.
According to Aaltje de Roos, the governments can create enabling environments for inclusion of the private sector in providing the citizenry with accessible, affordable better quality healthcare. Furthermore, she stressed the positive outcome of prepayment and healthcare insurance schemes; they empower patients as clients who are entitled to and demand quality services.
Partnering for accessible healthcare
Professor Rob van Tulder closed the session. He argued that markets can create financial sustainability and can create a system that is less prone to political spheres. An important element for this is to look at the institutional void in a specific country and not only seeing this as a threat but also an opportunity. In addition, he argued, there are opportunities for profit - not-for-profit partnerships, which can create innovation and scaling. The role of the public sector is to facilitate this, through regulation, and not to hinder these kinds of partnerships, thereby creating a win-win opportunity.