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Digitalization key theme at European Development Days 2017

On 7 and 8 June 2017, PharmAccess shared ideas and expertise in two sessions at the European Development Days in Brussels. The sessions focused on harnessing the power of the private sector and on how digital technology can disrupt development.

  • Jun 15, 2017

The European Development Days (EDD), organized by the European Commission, is Europe’s leading forum on development. Digitalization played a major role in many of this year’s discussions. Andrus Ansip, Vice President for the Digital Single Market in the European Commission, proclaimed that ‘every development project needs to have a digital component.’

Session on digital disruption

PharmAccess hosted a debate on digital disruption of development, which provided not only a tour de horizon of the potential of digital, but also concrete examples of how digital innovations are already driving change in the development arena.

The panel consisted of Hans Docter (Director for Sustainable Development at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Laura Crow (Senior Product Manager M-Pesa at the Vodafone Group), Alec Behrens (Co-founder of Booking.com and founder of Skillslab.tv and 24surgery.com) and Maxwell Antwi (Country Director Ghana at PharmAccess). Alexander Kohnstamm (Director Advocacy at the Joep Lange Institute) moderated the session.

M-Pesa was mentioned repeatedly at EDD as one of those transformational services that the private sector has helped to bring. Recently published research concluded that M-Pesa has led to a 2% poverty reduction across Kenya. Crow emphasized the importance of public-private partnerships. ‘Setting up randomized controlled trials with different groups to demonstrate health impact is very expensive. That’s where the private sector needs to work with the development community to have a better and cost-efficient way of measuring impact. Once the evidence is clear in black and white, it becomes an easier choice for governments to come on board.’

Speaking from personal experience, Antwi laid out some of the challenges in Ghana. ‘Sixteen years ago I graduated from medical school in a class of 80. Just nine of us are still in Ghana. My country currently has only four radiation oncologists – but there are ten Ghanaian radiation oncologists in New York City alone!’

He also described the crucial role of the private sector and some of the products developed to meet a market need in Ghana, such as a digital proxy means testing tool that identifies poor households who are eligible for a premium waiver in the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).  On the supply side of the system, the NHIS often has delays in paying out claims to healthcare providers. This especially hits private providers, as they need liquidity to pay out wages or rent. The Medical Credit Fund has developed a receivable financing product that provides an advance on the NHIS claim, delivering cash to providers who have already delivered care but have yet to be paid.

Docter emphasized that the development community needs more disruption. ‘I believe that as development practitioners, if you care about bringing health to people, about being inclusive, about reaching the poor, you have to embrace new digital technology because it makes cheaper options available where they weren’t available before.’ In his view, the future of healthcare in Africa is private. ‘The money we can mobilize from the public sector, development money or from citizens, is only going to be a fraction of what is needed to develop the health infrastructure that is needed in Africa. You need the drive of the private sector to develop these new technologies and to come up with models and then roll them out at a scale where it becomes relevant.’ According to Docter, ‘the uptake of technologies that are cheaper and more reliable will be faster in the private sector rather than within a public system where you need to change the whole system nationwide before you can start implementing.’

Antwi agreed, adding that at the same time it’s imperative to keep the public sector informed. ‘Work with the private sector to generate the evidence. But don’t forget about advocacy and generating political will, because that’s where the limitation often lies. Once the evidence is there, you have to make sure the political economy is ripe enough to be able to take that forward.’

After disrupting the travel industry, Alec Behrens has now set his sights on access to surgical care across the world. He is currently setting up an online streaming platform that allows healthcare professionals to view, share and participate in educational video content – with the aim of building and sharpening surgical skills. He calls it ‘Netflix for surgeons.’ It can help boost quality of care in high-income countries, but more than that it will address a huge skills and resources gap in LMICs. Behrens emphasized that in the end, it’s not just about the technology – it all starts with demand. ‘If the demand doesn’t exist, it’s not going to be national, not international, not disruptive, nothing – because there’s no demand.’

Session on the private sector

The following morning, PharmAccess participated in a session organized by Global Fund and the Stop AIDS Alliance on harnessing the power of the private sector to achieve the health SDG, and the role of public-private partnerships in ending AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The panel consisted of Susan Mboya (President of The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation), Louise Van Deth (Executive Director of Aidsfonds), Hans Docter (Director for Sustainable Development at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and Ewout Irrgang (Director Advisory Services at PharmAccess). It was moderated by Christoph Benn (Director of External Relations at the Global Fund).

European Development Days

Every year, EDD brings the development community together to share ideas and experiences in ways that inspire new partnerships and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

This year, the dwindling US leadership in the global development landscape, the need for broader alliances and how Europe can try to fill this gap permeated many of the debates at the conference. High-level speakers included the new head of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica, and several heads of state, including the president of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo.

In his speech during the opening of the conference, Afuko-Addo highlighted the importance of focusing on youth, digitalization and the private sector. ‘Whilst we empower the private sector to create jobs and wealth, my government, recognizing the benefits of the digital revolution, has instituted measures to keep the youth in touch with global trends, and also equip them with the skills, which, together with their sense of enterprise and innovation, will be necessary in Ghana’s economic transformation.’

EDD was also the stage for the signing of the new European Consensus on Development, a collective vision and plan of action to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development.