Posted April 22, 2009 | 10:27 AM (EST)
During these times when many of the poor are struggling for a livelihood, health care seems less affordable than ever to so many of the impoverished. A family illness already is the primary force shoving people back into poverty. It's time for us to offer them the tools to push back.
A major part of the problem is that medical progress today typically arrives in partnership with high cost. As a result, poor people all over the world are left in desperate need of less expensive, but high-quality health care options.
Until recently, this dilemma
seemed unsolvable. But new circumstances offer great hope to my own country,
We are still at a serious
disadvantage, however. Many basic health care services remain out of reach for
most Bangladeshis because the average per capita annual income is about $600.
We plan to address this problem by developing a health care system that will be
high-quality, affordable, and self-sustaining. We expect this system to serve
all of the people of
This is not as farfetched as it sounds, and it doesn't have to cost billions of dollars. There are three models for such a system, each requiring new thinking about how to deliver care the most efficient way. In the first model, primary care is delivered to all of the poor, and they all pay just enough to keep the business sustainable. In the second model, the business offers a service for which the rich also are willing to pay, thereby underwriting treatment of the poor. In the last model, already profitable businesses can set up and operate joint-ventures that are sustainable as "social businesses" that seek to maximize the benefits for the poor. Investors can recoup their investments, but the profits are reinvested.
We already have established that the poor can and will pay for their own care, if it is reasonably priced. Nothing is more valuable to people than health care, and by paying, they feel less like beggars and more like "customers" who can and should demand quality care.
For example, Grameen Bank has
built 51 clinics that recover 93 percent of their costs by selling very
inexpensive insurance policies, asking patients to pay a very small fee at the
point of service, and selling pharmaceuticals and diagnostic services. Even the
poorest patients who use these clinics pay something or promise some payment at
a future date. No one is turned away. The Grameen clinics prove that a medical
system "for the poor" can be almost entirely self-supporting, and we
hope we can make it fully self sufficient so we can expand it across
We also can better serve the poor
by finding new models of care delivery. Grameen GC Eye Care Hospital in
Such examples are becoming
increasingly numerous. Leading Indian hospitals, which have U.S.-trained
doctors, now can perform open heart surgery for just $6,000. Dr. Devi Shetty of
Some of these endeavors operate with profits. Others, which I call social businesses, put back any profits they make towards helping the community by improving and expanding services.
Health care can be made more affordable for the poor without requiring major new scientific developments, just the smart application of current technologies. We have seen a $25 incubator and diagnostic instruments that are built tough, cheap, and reusable for the developing world. We need more such products, and we must improve health promotion, disease prevention, early detection, and compliance cost-effectively.
We are determined to build a
health care system in
Professor Muhammad Yunus is the father of microfinance and founder of Grameen Bank, both winners of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. He is also the founder of the Grameen America and Grameen Health Care social businesses.
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