Private Sector Has a Pivotal Role in Achieving Universal Health Coverage in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Viewpoint by Massimiliano Colella

The author is the chief executive officer of Evercare.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (IDN) — With public debt reaching record highs both in developed and emerging markets—and with even more financial volatility following the COVID-19 pandemic—government budgets have been stretched thin. Underfunding in healthcare versus competing priorities has led to heavily burdened systems in emerging markets that are often struggling to keep up with increasing demands.

Even before the pandemic, financing for the healthcare sector was strained, especially so in low- and middle-income countries. As of 2020, it was estimated that African countries spent between US$8 to US$129 per capita on health, compared to high-income countries where the average spend was around $4,000.

The situation is similar in low-income countries in South Asia where the average health spending per capita is US$247. Achieving improved health is a costly endeavour and many low- and middle-income countries have limited fiscal ability to successfully realize this.

The COVID-19 pandemic revealed many gaps in healthcare systems and public funding around the world. But now, attention is turning to recovery both in the health and the economic sectors. Realizing this will require increased collaboration between the public and private sectors, including institutions like the Evercare Group, to help deliver resilient and equitable healthcare systems throughout the developing world.

The pandemic demonstrated how the private sector can effectively work with governments to address increasing healthcare needs. As the threat of coronavirus begins to recede, it is important to maintain this public-private partnership to address longer-term challenges and identify key opportunities.

Partnerships are crucial to attaining health-related goals and Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as envisioned in the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The private sector can help play a pivotal role in achieving UHC across emerging markets, working hand in hand with the public sector to complement government delivery of healthcare services.

This can be done through specific deliberate efforts. One of them is reconfiguring purchasing agreements. In recent years, there has been a growing debate on the importance of investment for sustainable development, and the ability to meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own requirements.

This is where the private sector can have a significant role—it means that any investment made by private sector players is done sustainably to avoid accumulating more public debt while responding to new and increasing patient needs.

The private sector can also help provide parallel funding so that government resources can meet the needs of the wider population. For example, during the pandemic, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical personnel was extremely scarce.

We saw private sector players meet this shortage, by importing PPE kits and distributing them to healthcare facilities. This was possible because private operators were able to leverage their business networks and equally see more flexibility in their processes. 

During the pandemic, we saw the crucial role that the private sector plays in addressing resource gaps across the entire supply chain—since private sector provision of services spans the entirety of the health value chain, from financing and manufacturing (diagnostic equipment, hospital beds, scanners, personnel kits etc.) to distribution and retail.

The role of the private sector is to adopt an integrated approach to the organization and provision of care, following the highest quality and efficiency standards for patients.

On innovation, the private sector has again been on the frontline, undertaking research and development and improving access by scaling innovations. The sector can equally help advise on government policy, guiding investments where research and innovation gaps exist. On the personnel side, there is constant room and opportunities for continued training of personnel in the industry.

All these actions assist in making strides toward the achievement of Universal Health Coverage which has been challenged by high levels of healthcare inequality, lack of synchronized data from rural to urban areas, and limited financial protection for communities against rising debt burdens in emerging markets.

Private provision of healthcare exists in all countries and is the dominant source of care for the world’s poor, accounting for 40% of total health spending globally and about 60% in low-income countries. Although World Health Organization (WHO)’s Member States have adopted the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) agenda, they will not be able to achieve these goals through public sector service delivery alone.

It is therefore imperative for both the public sector and private stakeholders in the healthcare space to operate in collaboration, with synergized efforts to realize the vision of healthy lives and well-being for all at all ages. [IDN-InDepthNews – 22 April 2022]

Photo: An aid worker from the UN refugee agency attends to a baby at an UN-supported health center in the northern region of Burkina Faso. OCHA/Giles Clarke.

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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