Promoting Public-Private Partnerships to Improve Women’s Health

In Kenya’s urban slums, an ambitious effort is under way to meet the reproductive health care needs of women who struggle to receive the most basic medical care. The project strives to reach women where they live, employing innovative approaches like mobile health clinics, mothers’ support groups and teams of community health workers going door to door. What also distinguishes this project in today’s environment of foreign aid debates and tight budgets is the dynamic group of public and private partners committed to its success.

The Tupange urban health reproductive project represents joint programming that inspires and delivers for all, most certainly for thousands of Kenyan women and their families. From the support of the government health ministry and a global foundation giant, to the activities of our international health non-profit organization and a leading pharmaceutical corporation, this collaboration advances public health goals, private initiative and NGO expertise in concert with the U.S. Government’s development aid objectives.

The Obama administration has recognized the importance of these relationships in the past, and we applaud any effort by the president to incentivize programming that brings together the best of the public and private sectors and the NGO community. As the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Chief Innovations Officer Maura O’Neill has said, “Crafting effective public-private partnerships is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.”

At the center of our global health partnerships are strategies and innovations to prevent the needless deaths of women and families, whether from childbirth, HIV/AIDS, malaria, infection or cervical cancer. We join with health care leaders of developing countries to help them improve health services, strengthen health systems and increase the skills of their physicians, nurses and midwives. But collaboration among stakeholders is essential.

Many of today’s global health advocates welcome the opportunity to work with corporations for the expertise they cultivate and the innovation they inspire. Corporate partners contribute their expertise and resources, whether technical, financial or human capital. In the Kenyan slums project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Merck and Company provided the sleek mobile health clinics that bring health care services to women and families where they live. The white health wagons with the distinctive blue and green stripe complement outreach efforts by community health workers. Nurses, working in these modern vehicles, provide family planning services, HIV counseling and testing, and maternal and well-baby care as well as attend to a host of other needs.

For corporate partners, joint programming is not solely a matter of social responsibility. They recognize that their contributions are good for business. Improving health care access means a healthier workforce –employees on the job, focused and productive—and a citizenry that is engaged and contributing.

In Ghana, a consortium of six oil-industry companies is helping fund improvements in malaria prevention and treatment services at community health centers in cooperation with the government, an initiative that complements other U.S-funded efforts in the region. Malaria is the primary cause of death in health institutions in Ghana’s western region, where the Jubilee Joint Venture partners operate, and accounts for 39 percent of all outpatient visits, 48 percent of hospital admissions for children under five and 18 percent of deaths in facilities.

The ExxonMobil Foundation has supported our work in Angola, Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon to build the capacity of health care providers to offer quality malaria prevention and treatment services. General Electric is helping strengthen Ugandan health facilities that serve tens of thousands of mothers, children and families, and is a key contributor, along with Laerdal Global Health, to our efforts to develop the next generation of low-cost health innovations.

In South Africa, a unique partnership of public and private employers, including Ford Motor Company, provided on-the-job, confidential HIV testing services for 60,000 workers and families, as well as screening for TB. Funded through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Siyazi Project established such services in as many as 135 workplaces with the support of our organization.

Corporate volunteerism such as the GlaxoSmithKline Pulse program is another way the private sector contributes to international goals for healthier communities. Young executives gain professional experience in a foreign locale and offer local authorities expertise that they are hard-pressed to obtain. As GSK volunteer Binita Patel succinctly summed up her experience with our work in Ghana, “Being able to contribute and be of benefit is truly rewarding.”

The value of partnerships in today’s global development arena cannot be underestimated for the collective expertise they bring to bear in programming that improves the health and economic status of countries—a win-win.


 

By Dr. Leslie Mancuso,  President and CEO of Jhpiego, an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University that for nearly 40 years has worked with front-line health workers to design and implement low-cost, innovative solutions to strengthen the delivery of health services to vulnerable women and their families. This is one of several blogs by prominent NGOs on ways we can move toward making foreign assistance more effective.