The Social Challenge: Health Care

A stark divide has emerged in the modern world, where large populations of underserved exist with poor access to basic amenities. Financially sustainable and innovative solutions are needed to help them break out of the cycle of poverty.

The Idea and the Action

In the Philippines, a country spread out over 7,000 predominantly rural islands with a decentralized system of governance, over 1,600 local government units (LGUs) are each tasked with delivering health care to their constituents. These LGUs are also charged with reporting to the national health agencies to inform them of community health needs and issues. In a country so geographically dispersed, a paper-based system has been cumbersome for the health care workers and health clinics, and inefficient and ineffective for the public health system as a whole. The system demands a precipitous change.

The Impact

One public-private partnership (P3), Wireless Access for Health (WAH), uses computing and mobile technology to gradually improve public health care delivery for millions of Filipinos, leveraging the technical and managerial expertise, authority and resources provided by its cross-sector partners.

WAH has used new and innovative technologies such as 3G wireless data networks, low-cost hardware and open-source software to develop a customizable, open-source electronic health records (EHR) program that improves access to more accurate and relevant patient health reports. The positive impact of WAH can be seen in the improved collection and recording of patient health data, increased number of patients’ preventive visits, reduced wait times at these visits, heightened morale of health care workers, and, most importantly, improved perception and delivery of health services to the public.

The Faculty Insight

Public-private partnerships are the type of initiative the world needs. Public finances have become a binding constraint for many necessary efforts to alleviate poverty and restore economic freedom. Partnerships that bring together the skills and knowhow of business with the public sector’s access to and understanding of the underserved can make meaningful impact that is scalable.

 We at the Darden School, where the mission statement begins with the mandate to improve the world, are keen on exploring and implementing more P3 opportunities. In courses such as “Markets and Society,” Darden students consider how businesses, governments and NGOs can work together to harness private-sector tools and approaches to find resolutions to challenges around the world. The urgent and structural problems that inhibit people from being productively engaged in their communities and improving their condition demand responses that must be, whenever possible, market enabling, never market destroying.

The challenge we take on is to design and create innovations and interventions that combine the capacities of governments and NGOs with markets, business and entrepreneurship to promote human development and transform societies across the world. In too many instances with narrowly focused missions, the government that tries to provide services for the poor and underserved quickly runs into capacity constraints; the NGO finds itself perpetually in fundraising mode, diverting energy and attention from its core mission; and businesses might service only higher income segments. But together, through public-private partnerships, each sector can attain its goals and serve the larger society. In the process, growth and prosperity will occur without leaving behind the poor — the bottom of the pyramid — so that they too experience better living conditions and achieve the human freedoms that all deserve.

The Wireless Access for Health Initiative was a finalist for the P3 Impact Award, which recognizes leading public-private partnerships that improve communities around the world. The award is presented by Darden’s Institute for Business in Society, Concordia and the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships.

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