In a panel discussion on Private Sector Engagement Opportunities and Best Practices in Africa, moderated by the Africa Resource Centre and hosted by SAPICS, the Body Professionalising Supply Chain Management in Africa, panellists representing governments, donor organisations and private sector partners discussed some recent successful case studies of private sector engagement in healthcare in Africa, and explored the defining features of effective private sector engagement.
By nature, private sector engagement in healthcare requires substantial, intentional relationship building and demands a collaborative approach that considers the pain points and needs of multiple stakeholders.
Lauren Marks, the Director of Private Sector Engagement for PEPFAR, US Department of State, Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, highlighted the three essential enablers for building effective partnerships. These are:
- Partners must agree on what success looks like and what the measurements are to determine whether success has been achieved.
- All players must be transparent. Relationships are important and investing in them facilitates the key conversations about what success looks like and how to measure it.
- Successful partnerships have stakeholders that each bring something unique to the table – such as core competency, skills, product design, market research, innovation, etc.
The hallmark of a good partnership is that all parties are sharing in the risk and the rewards of a project, with all putting something of value on the table. This means that intellectual contributions are as valuable as financial contributions.
In line with this, Matthew Barnes, the Senior Advisor for Strategy at PEPFAR, US Department of State, USA, said that it’s important for donors and private sector partners to include a transition plan for ultimate handover to a government right from the start of any project to ensure its long-term usefulness. He added that running a pilot project in a motivated region will fuel success and show the value of a new or different approach, paving the way for it to be extended to other places and systems and to ultimately become an established, effective part of a healthcare solution.
A recent success story of private sector engagement in Uganda was presented by Dr Paul Okware, Chief Operations Officer of the National Medical Store (NMS). Working with its private sector partners, the Ministry of Health in Uganda has leveraged outsourced logistics partners to increase the availability of medicines to the last mile. As a result of the NMS’s logistics outsourcing initiative, consistent stock availability of a basket of 40 medicine products has increased to over 80%.
Okware explained that one of the key advantages of working with private sector partners was the agility they offered, meaning that proposed solutions could be trialled without requiring significant up-front capital investments in infrastructure by government. He added that it was easier, safer, cheaper and faster to explore innovation in partnership with private sector companies until it could be scaled to a point that warranted more permanent infrastructure investment or management from government.
Another successful private sector project has been underway in Rwanda with drone delivery service Zipline. The Rwanda project has focused on how best to use the technology of drones to increase availability of medicines and healthcare products along the supply chain. Israel Bimpe, Partnership Lead at Zipline, emphasised the value of running proof of concept projects to allow for better understanding of the pain points for different stakeholders. These types of projects have made it possible to adapt and fine-tune new approaches before they are used in a widespread context. This case study provided a practical example to support Barnes’ point that demonstrating small successes can win over important stakeholders and result in more extensive uptake of a solution.
As African governments seek to evolve their healthcare systems, particularly the public health supply chain, meeting patient needs and improving the availability of medicines to those who need them can be significantly impacted and accelerated through strategic, effective private sector engagement. As Bimpe said, “What we have seen in policy makers and supply chain leaders is the capacity to understand that existing systems can be rethought and we can challenge our own assumptions around what it takes to be successful and how we can solve certain long-standing challenges.”