Without access to healthcare, prospects for development look dim. Progress has been made in the last two decades but many challenges remain, not least with preventable and treatable diseases in the most fragile regions.
On this backdrop, universal health care coverage seems like a utopian concept but, in fact, technological advances have shifted the idea closer to reality.
Partnerships can unlock the potential of digital innovation in a way that traditional models of development aid cannot. When state actors, NGOs, the private sector and civil society come together, such partnerships “with a purpose” can be formed and deliver miraculous results.
There are many reasons for inequality in healthcare - gender, poverty, instability and remoteness - but none of them are unsurmountable if the political will is there to do tackle them
This high-level debate on partnerships and innovation in health care in the context of development brought together representatives from the European Union, the World Health Organization (WHO), leading international organisations in the field, a leading telecommunications company and civil society.
In his opening address, the European Commission’s Director General for International Cooperation and Development announced the signing, on the same day at the Development Days, of a new contribution agreement with the WHO. The money will be used building health care systems in more than 80 African, Caribbean, Pacific, and Asian countries, as part of the Health Systems Strengthening for Universal Health Coverage Partnership Programme.
The WHO representative illustrated the need for this programme by stressing that despite the progress of recent times we are currently not on track in eradicating preventable diseases or bringing down mother/infant mortality in fragile and remote regions.
The Chair of the Board of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, one of the important “partnerships with a purpose”, added that four years after the updating of the Millennium Development Goals, many governments’ priorities have changed and the agenda has shifted, creating political headwinds. However, we must not be discouraged but instead “step up the fight”, a battle cry that will also serve as the motto of the next replenishment conference of the Global Fund next October.
On the issue of malaria in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which is still the principal cause of morbidity and mortality in the country, the audience heard an impassioned plea for “commitment from all” to defeat Malaria from EDD19 Young Leader Louison Mbombo Bitilo, founder of the Mbomo Initiative Against Malaria (Solidariedade Na Mokili) that works in partnership with Google and Microsoft.
Ghana’s Second Lady, Samira Bawumia, who runs her own charity, working on healthcare, education and women’s empowerment, gave examples of how technology is helping to reach people in remote areas. One of them is the introduction of delivery drones by Zipline, a US digital logistics company.
Zipline first started to operate in Rwanda, and are now trying to repeat their success there in the much larger Ghana. And, according to the CEO of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, even the company’s home country is interested in their services, which he called a welcome case of South to North innovation.
From the panel, the Chairman Orange S.A.’s Middle East and Africa operations, made the case for tech and telco companies to join the ‘partnerships with a purpose’. For Orange, it was only logical to become involved. Apart from participating in the development of telemedicine in rural areas, mobile phones today offer unprecedented opportunities to provide governments and NGOs with health and epidemiological data analysis services.
Given the revolutionary advances in technology and their potential to revolutionise healthcare, it is now up to politics to clear the road to universal healthcare coverage.