There's strong case for engagement of private sector in healthcare


What you need to know:

  • It is important for private sector to understand that its engagement in healthcare is not a matter of philanthropy.

  • It needs to see opportunity for healthy population as economic investment and not merely corporate social investment.

Over the past few months, I have participated in the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development here in Nairobi and a meeting the sidelines of the G7 Health Ministers’ Meeting in Kobe, Japan.

At both meetings, there were lively deliberations on the role of partnerships between the private sector, non-governmental organisations, and the public sector in achieving universal health coverage, as elaborated in the third Sustainable Development Goal: good health and wellbeing. 

There was clear consensus about one thing: the role of the private sector in global health.

The case for private sector engagement in global health is stronger now more than ever because of the huge funding and knowledge gaps in global healthcare that only the private sector can plug. Private sector efforts need to complement what the public sector and NGOs are doing.

Private sector in health includes players such as private doctors, clinics, hospitals, pharmacists, laboratories, pharmaceutical manufacturers, medical technology companies, financial sector, information and communication technology companies, as well as private training institutions for health human resources.

At an international conference on financing for development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in November, 2015, it was concluded that as the world looks towards the SDGs for 2030, mobilisation of domestic resources would be key. Domestic resource mobilisation is not restricted to taxes, but more significantly, to the private sector.


The private sector accounts for about 50 per cent of all health expenditure in Africa. This essentially means that it provides a significant amount of health services in general and specialist care as well as diagnostics and commodities.

To amplify the role of the private sector in healthcare, we need to leverage on partnerships. These present an opportunity to drive bottom-of-the-pyramid solutions that are not only innovative but also sustainable, solutions that help provide low cost access to the marginalised and at the same time drive profitability in the private sector.

Private sector partnerships with NGOs would allow players to develop solutions that are relevant and acceptable to communities and help drive access to healthcare.

NGOs act as government “adjuncts”, providing access to communities in a way that government machinery cannot due to financial and structural limitations. They provide community reach, trust, knowledge and cultural context, as well as access to key stakeholders and leaders. These are crucial factors for private sector engagement, underscoring the need for partnerships. The public sector should, for its part, provide a framework for these partnerships.


More significantly, it is important for the private sector to understand that its engagement in healthcare is not a matter of philanthropy. It needs to see the opportunity for a healthy population as an economic investment and not merely corporate social investment, important as this is.

Even for those companies that deal in consumer goods, a healthy and empowered population assures sustainable consumption patterns. A healthy work force also means a better labour market.

Private sector engagement in healthcare is all about “doing well while doing good”. It is about investing in communities for prosperity while contributing to their bottom lines. There is undoubtedly a strong business case for greater private sector engagement in healthcare and this conversation needs to be sustained if we are to provide universal health coverage, as envisaged by the Sustainable Development Goals.


Dr Githinji Gitahi is group chief executive officer, Amref Health Africa.

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