The COVID-19 pandemic has been a study in disruption. Disrupting work, travel, study, and life as we know it. What this has translated to, is a disruption of the world’s supply chains, meaning that medicines, and critical life-saving equipment were barred from reaching destinations of need, hitting the chronically ill, women, children, and adolescents the hardest.
In the midst of this disruption, the pandemic revealed the vulnerable underbelly of our countries’ health and social systems, especially the pre-existing health system vulnerabilities and disparities in equity.
Notwithstanding the need for public health sector strengthening, and domestic resource mobilization, private providers have a key role to play in ensuring that a large segment of the population have access to the healthcare services that they need. According to the National Health Accounts of 2018, 40% of people who access privately provided healthcare are in the lowest socio-economic strata. Furthermore, 35% of total health expenditure went to privately-run pharmacies, chemists and patent medicine vendors.
First, ministries of health and the private sector need to engage in collaborative discussions to examine opportunities and challenges that private capacity can be mobilised to surmount, thus expanding access for healthcare products and services.
Secondly, the private sector can be instrumental to achieving the three cardinal principles of universal health coverage – equitable access, quality healthcare, and financial risk protection. The private sector should be incentivised to design innovative models that can scale quality healthcare service provision across economic strata, engender risk-sharing, and protect the populace from catastrophic health expenses.
Lastly, for these inter-sectoral collaborations to work effectively, stringent accountability mechanisms must be in place for both the public and private sectors. This would ensure transparency, integrity, and the delivery of public good.