Innovation management by global health entrepreneurs

10 February 2012


This report was prepared by Sian Loveless, NERC-Funded CSaP Policy Intern (February 2012 - May 2012)

Worldwide there are 5000 deaths per day from Tuberculosis (TB), a disease that has been preventable through vaccination for 100 years, and that is treatable with antibiotics. Most of these deaths occur in developing countries. For diseases like TB, logistical and societal factors may be larger barriers to treatment than either drug innovation or affordability. On 10 February, Julia Fan Li, a Doctoral Researcher and Gates scholar from the Centre for Technology Management, Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, outlined the role that entrepreneurship can have in helping to overcome these challenges. This talk was part of the Cambridge Public Policy seminar series.

In her presentation, Julia Fan Li identified two factors in particular that contribute to the continued prevalence of deaths from TB - cultural stigma associated with such infectious diseases, and the duration of the complete course of treatment antibiotics. Operation ASHA (opASHA), a healthcare NGO in India has focused on these particular issues. Fundamental to the programme is the appointment of local counselors to manage the programme. Counselors deliver initial patient treatments and promote full treatment compliance through education. Counselors also recruit local convenience shops to distribute medicines, removing the necessity for patients to visit specialist health care clinics, as well as providing longer hours of opening for collection. The shop-keeper registers the patient’s attendance and ensures that they take their medication, and the counselor will follow up with the patient when doses are missed. The scheme has seen a decrease in the proportion of incomplete treatment courses from 20 % to just 5 %. Innovative technology, such as computers, and mobile devices are now also being used, which has improved the efficiencies and thus results of the scheme further still.

This is an example of social franchising, which uses business-franchising methods to achieve social objectives. The programme is funded by government grants, a funding model feasible due to the nature of the low risk investment and high returns. Julia Fan Li also described other innovative initiatives to deliver health care, such as the piggybacking on established distribution networks.

Finally, Julia addressed the question, where do entrepreneurs come from? She suggests that individuals through to large organisations can be entrepreneurs in health-care delivery. The key, however, is recognising where strategic links in health-care service provision can be made. Often, as is the case with opASHA, this can arise from chance encounters coupled with an enthusiasm to share ideas. Whilst the majority of the companies that Fan Li has worked with are from developed countries, there are schemes emerging aimed at promoting entrepreneurs from within developing countries.

Julia highlighted the vital role that entrepreneurship and innovative attitudes may have in tackling some of the world’s most serious health issues.

For the full programme of Cambridge Public Policy seminars please follow the link here.

(Thumbnail image courtesy of Jim Holmes/AusAID c/o WikiCommons, Banner image c/o Direct Relief)

Dr Sian Loveless

British Geological Survey