World Health Partners (WHP) has been quite successful in its mission to help rural communities and provide people with quality health care facilities at affordable prices.
WHP created its model for delivering health services to the rural poor by recognizing major drawbacks in the system. Rural communities were isolated from health care centers and government struggled with effective management, NGOs depended on grants and donors to scale, and the quality of health care available on the market was low. These issues still occur in India, but WHP found a way to help people by turning these challenges into opportunities.
In November 2008, WHP started with an 18-month pilot program in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and successfully delivered family planning and health services. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WHP expanded its operation to Bihar in 2011.
WHP was able to reach the communities in rural India by engaging and franchising the unlicensed, informally trained village practitioners who were already providing services within these communities. In return, the practitioners get access to value-added services like telemedicine, training, marketing and regular supplies – all of which provide benefits to their existing business. Since these practitioners are well-known in their villages and are good businessmen, WHP benefits by using these relationships to grow to scale.
Karen Pak Oppenheimer, VP, told us in an interview that WHP generates most of its revenue through the sale of generic medicines under the brand SkyMeds. SkyMeds are priced around 20 percent lower than similarly available medications, but still enable WHP to make a small margin. WHP also receives a share of the earnings from fees charged by their rural health franchisees. These earnings are used to provide subsidies to clients living below poverty line (BPL).
The government of India has not invested much in the health sector. And when they have, it has been a challenge since the government does not track the quality of care that results from its investments, meaning that a company that provides high-quality care does not get special consideration. However, the government is increasing support through incentives to providers and subsidies to the poor, and those funding streams remain available to be tapped.
Through its network of village practitioners, creative use of business management systems and information and communication technologies, WHP has been able to reach the rural communities in spite of the weak infrastructure that exists in the country.
Currently, only 26 percent of the total doctors work in rural India where over 70 percent of the population lives. Although WHP has been quite successful in engaging with the local private sector, this method remains a stopgap – ideally, licensed doctors could be encouraged to work in rural areas. This step would improve WHP’s impact, but would also improve health care across India.
At the end of the day, WHP is on their way to make tremendous impact in the poorest states in India.