This week TOP co-hosted the first in a series of meetings on business and development alongside the Institute of Development Studies and the APPG on Debt, Aid and Trade. Chaired by Lord Crisp and supported by the APPGs on Global Health, TB and HIV/AIDS, this event looked at how governments, businesses, practitioners and academics can work together more effectively to ensure that health markets in developing countries work better for the world’s poorest communities.
IDS Research Fellow Gerry Bloom highlighted that compared to 30 years ago, people in poorer countries have much better access to health care. This is due to the rapid development of mixed health systems, incorporating public and private providers (either formal or informal). However, understanding of these systems has not kept pace with the changes that have taken place and new strategies and approaches are now urgently required if performance is to be improved. He argued that more needs to be done to share learning and best practice across countries and between governments, businesses, practitioners and academics as we move from a culture of aid to broader engagement.
Drawing on examples from Bangladesh, Rubaiyath Sarwar, Managing Director of Innovision, spoke about a number of innovative approaches that are being implemented in Bangladesh including floating hospitals and the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action which provides health information to new and expectant mothers via their mobile phones. However, he raised two important challenges for these innovative approaches. How can they be made sustainable, particularly in terms of financing, and how can they be taken to scale? Addressing these is critical to progress and improvements.
Another challenge that was highlighted by Dr Allan Pamba, Vice President of GlaxoSmithKline Africa, was the risk attached to, and potential lack of incentives, for the private sector to invest in health systems in poorer countries. He used the example of Africa, which has only 1% of the global health budget and 3% of the global health workforce.
However Dr Pamba highlighted that companies like GSK have taken a broader perspective that demonstrates value to shareholders as well as having significant social impact. GSK now invest 20% of their profits from the poorest countries back into their local health markets. In order to achieve this, GSK has had to adapt their business models and partner with NGOs and governments to reach the poorest communities, which he admitted still presented a real challenge. The attitude of business is changing – businesses get their licence to operate from the public, so they must act in a way that merits that licence.
Ensuring access to health care and services for the hardest to reach was also an issue that Patricia Atkinson, Vice President and Health Systems Director at Marie Stopes International highlighted. She spoke about how Marie Stopes was working with partners to increase the utilisation of health services and exploring how health insurance schemes in countries such as Ghana and Kenya could be targeted at the poorest 20% of the population.
This is the first in a series of meetings organised by the APPGs on Trade Out of Poverty and Debt, Aid and Trade together with the Institute of Development Studies on business and development. Drawing on practical case studies in the fields of food and nutrition, health and the green transformation, this series will bring together parliamentarians, civil society, business and academia to examine how UK development policy needs to evolve to ensure the long-term impact of business and development initiatives on the well-being of the poorest communities is improved.
The seminar series is seeking to address questions such as:
– Are the expectations being placed on the private sector realistic or strategic?
– Is enough being done to identify where the genuine opportunities lie and what interventions are most likely to work in different circumstance?
– What are the binding constraints on creating an enabling environment for business in developing countries?
– How can we ensure the long-term impact of business and development initiatives on the wellbeing of the poorest communities is improved?
Information regarding further events in this series will be available shortly.