By Gopi Gopalakrishnan, Founder and President, World Health Partners.
Over the last five years, World Health Partners (WHP) has worked to develop a system of healthcare delivery that meets the needs of those most vulnerable in India: rural communities who constitute three-fourths of the population. Last month, with the launch of a new collaborative project in Kisumu, western Kenya, WHP took the first step in realizing a foundational goal for the organization: expansion into Africa.
At first glance, expansion into Africa seems a counterintuitive step for WHP. Our expertise is in India. We have spent half a decade navigating challenges unique to the Indian health system. And, though we are proud of our progress, there remains no shortage of work in rural India. Yet, WHP's mission has always been to deliver health services to those in need, a philosophy that is agnostic to country or region, and one that means working where the needs are greatest.
In my 25+ years of working in global health, I have seen countless programs take root and grow only to wither and fade - programs filled with great ideas that failed to adapt to local contexts, or programs with great promise that failed to innovate in the face of the uncertainties of low resource, weak infrastructure settings. Our experience working in rural Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two of India's largest and poorest states, has been a crucible of learning and innovation for us, and we relish the challenge of applying these lessons to a new country.
After over 120,000 successful telemedicine consultations in India, and having served millions of patients through our 6,000 rural Sky franchisees, we trust that our model is making a difference in the lives of those we reach.
Our new project in Kenya, implemented in collaboration with Kisumu Medical and Educational Trust (KMET), was born from a mutual desire to improve health services for rural Kenyans, many of whom remain underserved by the existing health system.
Kenya, like most countries in the developing world, has struggled to relocate doctors, nurses, and clinical services close to the rural communities that need them the most, communities in which nearly 75% of Kenya's population still lives. In the face of an underdeveloped rural infrastructure and insufficient human resources for health, we believe our Sky network can be a catalyst for achieving universal health coverage.
For many rural communities of western Kenya, the first point of medical care is the local community health worker (CHW). The Sky franchise network transforms rural CHWs into sources and conduits for affordable and timely medical services through a combination of training, reliable supply of medicines and diagnostics, and telemedicine links to qualified doctors in urban centers.
This is a small beginning for WHP's efforts in Africa. Existing human resources like CHWs in rural Kenya are present in every community; the native sense of entrepreneurship is a universal resource and the lynchpin of human ingenuity. We are confident that the linkages we help form, along with our micro-franchising approach, will not only empower local health workers, but give them the ownership necessary to truly bridge, sustainably and at scale, the access challenges that exist in much of Africa.