Private sector is an indispensable partner in Universal Health Coverage

Private sector engagement should mobilise and create partnerships that focus on both short and long-term investments. [iStockphoto]

Health is a human right and providing the necessary support for individuals to lead healthy and productive lives is a fundamental pillar of any society.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than half of the world’s population cannot access essential healthcare services, with at least two billion people facing financial hardship because of healthcare costs.

At the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in September 2023, countries pledged to step up healthcare investments by 2030 by signing the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Declaration at the UN High Level Meeting.

In Kenya recently, the government committed to supporting 100,000 Community Health Promoters (formerly Community Health Volunteers) and unveiled equipped kits for them in a bid to increase access to communities as part of the delivery of Primary Healthcare Services which include early referral for appropriate care. To buttress these efforts, public-private partnerships play a crucial role in the achievement of Primary Healthcare and UHC.

The private sector can contribute resources, technological innovations, and complementary funding for critical areas like research and development for health products and technologies health service care delivery, while the public sector creates and maintains the enabling environment through policy formulation and implementation. In addition, private sector philanthropy can complement governments’ efforts in achieving health objectives.

Philanthropy in healthcare dates as far back as early civilisations where wealthy individuals in Roman and Greek cultures supported their communities by building health facilities. In the 19th century, the presence of charitable organisations became prominent, especially during global conflicts, where they supported healthcare efforts for the wounded and sick. As time has gone by, private sector has become central to the health ecosystem.

The private sector has a role to play in the development of health services buoyed by Sustainable Development Goal 3, which advocates for Good Health and Well-being. First, the sector can support public infrastructure development through philanthropy or private sector delivery or through health programmes in partnership with public entities like county or national government supported by the line Ministry of Health. These initiatives must be people-centred and aligned with the target population’s needs.

In Kenya, since health is devolved, private sector engagement should mobilise and create partnerships that focus on both short and long-term investments which have a high and sustainable impact.

For instance, Safaricom Foundation’s partnership with Amref to support Narok County to strengthen reproductive, maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent health services embodies these principles by being aligned to the county strategy, multiyear in funding and putting people and communities at the centre.

Such public-private partnerships ensure that organisations run businesses that put sustainability at the centre, taking into account the needs of the society and responding to their challenges. 

Finally, there are still challenges to these sorts of investments. For example, bureaucracy and the lack of accountability by public entities may put-off would-be investors. In addition, the prevailing tough economic times have seen resources shrink, and for some companies, setting aside significant funds for community engagements and remaining afloat is a delicate balance.

The public sector should strengthen its resolve to create an enabling environment for private sector interventions through policy formulation and collaboration that makes it viable to invest in healthcare.


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