Why Partnerships Were All the Buzz at Women Deliver

This post originally appeared on PSI Impact. The newest edition of PSI Impact features a number of interesting stories and policy notes featured for Women Deliver, such as 5 bright-idea pilot projects that could yield big dividends for women and girls around the world.

Does the private sector have a role improving health systems? According to some participants at this year’s Women Deliver conference on maternal health, absolutely.

The conference, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, brought together thousands of health care providers, advocates, politicians, journalists, activists and human rights workers to discuss the challenges, victories and potential solutions in the maternal health field. One of those solutions: Private sector involvement.

Most people who work in the maternal health field are there for one reason, said Jennifer Pope, Director of Support for International Family Planning Organisation at PSI, in a Women Deliver panel on the private sector and health care. They’re working for “Sara.”

Sara, Pope said, is the woman who needs health care, family planning, adequate nutrition, sanitation and maternity care. It’s an archetype that represents all individuals and families that need health care. “There are many ‘Saras’ throughout the world,” Pope said. “We’re all here to serve her.”

But there are tremendous barriers to getting all the Saras the care they need, and solving the complex problems that make care inaccessible requires creativity and partnership. The private sector is already deeply involved in the health care system, said Alysha Beyer, the Deputy Director of African Health Markets for Equity (AHME).

According to Beyer, the idea that “the greater the interactions and synergies between the work streams, the greater the individual and aggregate impact” is AHME’s basic philosophy.

With the private sector already dominating the health provided in much of the developing world – 75 percent of the care provided in Pakistan and India, for example – its influence and reach must be leveraged.

“The private sector is a very important source of contraceptive supplies in both Asia and Africa,” said Susan Mitchell, the Vice President of International Health at Abt Associations. “Likewise if you look at child health treatment behaviors, it’s even more stark.”

Even just a few years ago the idea of deep private sector involvement with NGOs in developing countries would raise eyebrows. Now, though, there’s a shifting consensus that there are major benefits to involving private enterprise.

“Among donors there’s a growing view that the private sector can make a real difference,” Mitchell said. “It’s shifted from a very adversarial relationship to a collaborative relationship.”

One major factor in that change, Mitchell said, has been “acknowledgment of the need for stronger engagement of all stakeholders, including the private sector.”

The private sector, she said, strengthens health care systems by increasing the number of available providers, improving consumer choice and mobilizing resources and expertise. The Philippines federal insurance program PhilHealth, for example, covers 84 percent of the population. Sixty percent of the health care facilities accredited by PhilHealth are private providers. Low-income citizens of the Philippines are able to access private care, including prenatal and post-natal care, deliveries, and family planning.

It’s not a perfect model, but increased information-sharing and collaboration between the private sector, the public sector and NGOs are yielding positive results in many areas. Most importantly, they’re creating more avenues to serve the many Saras of the world.