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Demonstrating the Power of Partnerships: The Potential for Universal Health Care in Kenya

Dr Stephen Karau, Kenya’s Ambassador/Permanent Representative to The United Nations, WTO & Other International Organizations in Geneva, Switzerland. @DrKarau

GENEVA, Jan 30 2017 (IPS) - Even as the global community set out the 17 Sustainable Development Goals last year, a realization that stood out is that no single unit has the wherewithal to achieve such lofty goals – they will only be achieved through partnerships.

Ambassador Stephen Karau

Ambassador Stephen Karau

There has been a lot of discussions and good intentions regarding public-private partnerships, but not enough practical, on-the-ground support to make such partnerships effective and truly transformational.

One of the areas where the need for partnerships has been most obvious is the pursuit of universal health coverage, which falls under SDG 3 of Good Health and Wellbeing.

On 20 January 2017, I was delighted to represent my government at a World Economic Forum side-event in Davos. Our underlying aim is to pave the way forward of an initiative that is being spearheaded with the Government of Kenya and the United Nations in Kenya that aims to accelerate progress towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC) in support of the broader attainment of the SDGs. We are pleased with the enthusiasm and support of the Government of Netherlands, Philips and Unilever.

I was inspired by the engaging discussions with various executives from the private sector on how we could establish a platform and shape a process in Kenya for realizing partners’ common goal of significantly increasing private sector investments and large-scale, financially sustainable Public Private Partnerships in Primary Health Care (PHC).
While the Kenya Government has put in place commendable efforts to increase allocation to the health sector and provide health protection, more still can be done to engage the private sector, where innovation, technical know-how, and efficiency are abundant.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has demonstrated personal interest in the health sector, with a flagship programme being the provision of free maternity services in public hospital, and the very successful advocacy programme by the Kenya First Lady known as the Beyond Zero Campaign.

However, the majority of the country’s population still relies on out-of-pocket spending and other means such as informal borrowing to finance health care. Often this leads to financial hardship, and nearly one million Kenyans are pushed below the poverty line every year as a result of prohibitive health care expenses. This indicates the need to accelerate the policies and galvanize support around the realization of UHC.

Through championing multi-stakeholder and cross-sector partnerships this can be realized.

As a diplomat but also trained doctor with experience in the public and private sectors and having served for 24 years in the Kenyan military, I personally understand the complexities of partnering and how different interests can pose a challenge. But I also know how rewarding successful collaboration can be when partners demonstrate trust in each other, openly share ideas and join forces behind a shared purpose.

My friend and colleague, Siddharth Chatterjee, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya has said that Kenya can lead the way in achieving universal health coverage in Africa, I say enthusiastically, “yes we can”.

The recently released report of the Better Business, Better World by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission states that sustainable business models could open economic opportunities worth up to US$12 trillion and increase employment by up to 380 million jobs by 2030. Putting the Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of the world’s economic strategy could unleash a step-change in growth and productivity.

However, this will not happen without radical change in the business and investment community. Real leadership is needed for the private sector to become a trusted partner in working with government and civil society to fix the economy.

In Kenya we are already witnessing the fruits of such leadership and private sector engagement from which we can learn and build on. One such example is the Private Sector Health Partnership Kenya. Through this platform companies as Philips, Unilever, Safaricom, Merck (MSD), Huawei and GSK, in partnership with the national and county governments, are helping to build models with the potential for scaling-up the delivery of healthcare for vulnerable and poor populations in low-resource settings.

Initial support has focused on innovative solutions that enable leapfrogging obstacles occurring in local health systems in Mandera, Migori, Marsabit, Wajir, Isiolo and Lamu. These six counties have a combined population of approximately 10% of the national population but contribute close to 50% of the country’s maternal deaths.

For the private sector partners, it is not a partnership driven by corporate social responsibility ideals, but an opportunity to create the basis for future growth, for example by setting off a positive cycle of health and employment, which can create new markets.

It clearly shows the willingness of both public but also private partners to embrace the sustainability agenda and find shared-value partnership models in order to leave-no-one-behind.

Let me finish by reiterating what Hon Dr Mailu, Cabinet Secretary for Health in Kenya, also shared in his video message to the participants of the WEF Davos side-meeting: “In Kenya, we are committed to partnerships that are dynamic and mutually beneficial. I believe that as we start talking more, we will find additional ways to share our expertise and resources to achieve our common goals. We want to explore new ideas and platforms, offering an open invitation to work together”.

World Trade Organization (WTO)

 
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