The Covid-19 pandemic instigated a strong sentiment of global solidarity. This was echoed by Dr. Michael J. Ryan, Director-General of WHO’s Emergency Program, who claimed ‘nobody on this planet is safe until everyone is safe’.
He acknowledges we all have a vested interest in universalising healthcare, as excluding certain groups can put entire populations at risk. Whilst delivering equal access to the highest standard of healthcare is a noble pursuit, we are far from achieving such a feat.
At the height of the pandemic, Kenya had just 200 intensive care beds for a population of 52.7 million people - in stark contrast to the US, which has 34.7 beds per 100,000 people. However, the pandemic offers a unique opportunity to reframe existing narratives around the importance of healthcare universalism and to demonstrate the power of multi-lateral cooperation, driven by technology, towards greater equality.
While there is work to be done, the situation is by no means bleak. The University of Oxford notes a significant improvement in healthcare universalism in the last 25 years. Nonetheless, the Global South still lags the North.
The average Health Universalism Index increased by 0.061 and 0.058 in low and lower-middle income countries, respectively, from 1995 to 2017, compared to an increase of 0.095 and 0.086 in upper-middle and high-income countries.
While better healthcare has an obvious impact on life expectancy and the rate of live births, there are other major advantages; a 1 per cent increase in universalism was associated with a reduction of 1.36 per cent in the homicide rate and a reduction of 0.63 per cent in the Global Peace Index, highlighting the impact of improved healthcare on social cohesion and even nation-building.
Collaboration between public and private sectors is crucial to establishing resilient and efficient healthcare systems. Private companies often hold extensive experience and capabilities to execute projects smoothly, while governments can offer invaluable support in granting licenses, introducing regulations, and opening gateways for businesses to progress. When visions are shared, such partnerships can provide incredible results.
Innovation is key to healthcare universalism – especially in countries where there are large populations of people in remote areas. AI, medical devices, regenerative medicine and even drones to help bridge infrastructure gaps, are instrumental in the future of treatment planning and increased access to care.
New ways to lower medical cost
A recent example of how a solution can democratise access to health services is the Butterfly IQ+, - the world’s only single probe, whole-body handheld ultrasound solution. The device, which costs a fraction of the price of a standard ultrasound device, aims to cater to more than 4.7 billion people worldwide who do not have access to medical imaging.
The product is designed to dramatically expand the capabilities of practitioners working in remote areas, by enabling them to collect images, perform rapid assessments and share results easily with doctors around the world.
The opportunity for growth in the healthtech sector is limitless. Healthtech investment reached $106 million in 2020 across Africa, representing the highest figures to date. Furthermore, in H1-2021, almost $62 million was raised by healthtech companies across 15 deals.
In addition to improving access to care, technology can play a crucial role in improving health literacy and supporting entire populations to better understand and manage their own conditions and risk factors.
Accelerating accessibility to healthcare is necessary for the continued advancement of economies in the Global South. Such an ambitious goal requires a collaborative approach between public and private sectors to develop an infrastructure, supported by innovative technologies, to guarantee quality healthcare for all.
The tangible value that this will provide to individuals, communities, nations and even the world cannot be underestimated. As the pandemic demonstrated we are much stronger together.