produced by IntraHealth International

HRH + Private Sector = A Happy Marriage?

Posted on November 19, 2013 By Rebecca Kohler

Partnership with the private sector was a strong theme at the Third Global Forum on Human Resources for Health (HRH) in Recife, Brazil, last week. But where were our private-sector partners? Their limited presence made me wonder: Are we really welcoming what the private sector has to offer? Or are we just looking for funding? 

The private sector is already involved in HRH and brings unique voices, assets, and ways of working that the global HRH community must embrace to stay abreast of the rapidly changing environment. Unfortunately, private-sector entities were not substantively involved in the preparations leading up to the forum and were absent from most of the formal deliberations. Johnson & Johnson was the only private-sector group to hold a side event.

To help bridge the gap between the private sector and the global HRH community, we took IntraHealth International’s innovative SwitchPoint concept on the road to Recife. SwitchPoint is a movement inspired by our annual event, which harnesses the power of unusual, creative ideas and collaborations—intersections we call switch points—to stimulate progress.

In the last session of the forum, IntraHealth gathered some of the leading private-sector innovators who are working to solve today’s health workforce challenges to share their switch point experiences. Just like governments and civil society, the private sector—itself a diverse constituency—is grappling with how to bring about transformative and sustained change in the health sector.

Our moderator, IntraHealth’s Malik Jaffer, spurred many lively conversations. Here are some of the sound-bites that most inspired me:

Partnership is like a well-tended garden.

Steve Justus of the McKinsey-supported Touch Foundation in Tanzania likened partnerships to gardens—they are organic and take on lives of their own. Gardeners trust that with proper care and feeding, their harvest will be abundant. But gardens require patience, constant attention, fertilizer, and time to thrive and give a good harvest. In our field, partnerships are not always formal institutional collaborations, but are about growing networks that allow us all to build off each other’s unique strengths over time.

It isn’t all or nothing.

Daryl Burnaby of GlaxoSmithKline shared the motivations behind their company’s 20% reinvestment strategy. GSK donates 20% of the profits from its work in developing countries and reinvests them into training frontline health workers in those same countries. The switch point for Daryl is that reinvestment in health workers pays back in stronger health systems, which then allow GSK products to reach more of the people who can benefit from them. He shared that 20% is enough to make a difference, yet not so high that it is unsustainable for a company over the long term. GSK invests in on-the-ground partners who know the local context and can deliver the training.

Profit isn’t a dirty word.

Amit Thakker of the Kenya Health Care Federation proposes a paradigm shift: Profit is a good thing. When companies make profits, they can reinvest in their companies and communities—and provide a greater tax base to support better public services. He acknowledged that not all companies are the same—unscrupulous companies exist everywhere—but smart companies throughout East Africa are engaging differently with their government counterparts and are creating more win-win partnerships that support national health goals.

Progress doesn’t have to be painfully slow.

Paurvi Bhatt of Medtronic Philanthropy is busting the myth that “corporates” bring only money to the table. Medtronic is a leading advocacy player calling for transformative action to address the burgeoning global noncommunicable-disease crisis. Medtronic, like many corporations, has global assets (i.e., local and global talent and management, communications, and marketing capacity) they want to bring to bear on global health challenges. Paurvi encourages the global community to create more adaptive and responsive health systems and workforces that are truly able to respond to noncommunicable diseases.

Global companies can act locally.

Juliana Dal Pino of Johnson & Johnson Brazil explained how companies like J&J are deepening their commitments to their key stakeholders—their patients, families, and communities—through innovation. Johnson and Johnson Brazil invests in training health workers. They are also a sponsor of the World Cup in Brazil and wanted to piggyback on this investment to do something valuable for the health of the population. A new J&J phone-based digital health scorecard game will encourage World Cup spectators to know their health score and give suggestions on what they can do to improve their health. J&J also supports a health innovations center in Brazil designed to strengthen health workers’ fluency in the latest health technologies available in their facilities.

Aid funding can unleash private capital.

James Mwanzia of IntraHealth sees aid dollars as investment capital. How’s that for creativity? Through an innovative US Agency for International Development-funded project in Kenya, he and other Kenyan leaders are unleashing private resources to expand access to high-quality education for future generations of health workers. The resources USAID has invested to establish a low-interest loan program for health students have already been tripled by other private sources in the first year of the program.

Sure, the private sector has the potential to expand funding for HRH. But it can and does offer much more. We at IntraHealth are embracing new ways of working with the private sector and encourage the entire HRH community to do so.  Do you have examples of private-sector collaborations you want to share? What is your switch point for health workers?


I was inspired
Posted by Judith Winkler (not verified) on November 21, 2013
My personal switchpoint: Commitment to health workers + local partnerships that create an ecosystem for innovation. These guys were great--all of them--ending the forum on a high note.

Profit is not a dirty word!
Posted by Hani Serag (not verified) on November 26, 2013
Profit is an extremely dirty work and profit making is an dirty behavior when it is made out of people's pain and illness. The net margin (profitability) of the 20 top pharmaceutical companies ranged from 22.8% and 55.2%. Such a huge profitability is protected by the unfair international regulations enforced by the Bretton Wood organizations like the TRIPs agreement.

Thanks for the comment
Posted by Rebecca Kohler (not verified) on December 3, 2013
I welcome Hani Serag’s contribution to the dialogue about the role of the private sector. Health systems are complex and made up of many actors with diverse roles, functions, motivations, and expectations – public sector, civil society, private sector, clients and communities. Sadly, our health systems are not fair or equitable. More dialogue across the entire health sector is needed and ultimately more reforms are required to ensure that more resources are going toward the greatest societal good. We can and should find fault in the practices of many private sector entities, but at the same time, for example, the public sector has regulatory and oversight functions it too often fails to effectively conduct. We shouldn’t blindly accept or reject private (or public) sector partners, but rather seek understanding of how resource allocations impact our collective health goals and advocate for health policies, regulations, and funding that align with those goals.

Public Private Partnerships
Posted by Dr. Francis Ada... (not verified) on May 6, 2014
This is a well conceived idea however the marriage has not taken place. The key issue is to view the comparative strengths in each part of the health sector and harness the positive attributes and potential benefits and externalities to be included in the policies and regulations. No one side can go it alone, advocacy MUST continue till the marriage takes place

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