by Kate Roberts

Better health for the fairer sex

The power of philanthropy and private investments in health

Creating high-impact, sustainable health solutions for girls and women
Power of philanthropy and private investment

There are some global challenges that we do not yet know how to solve. Improving the health of girls and women worldwide is not one of them. On the contrary, we already have the necessary tools in our possession.

Reliable health data allows us to pinpoint and develop solutions for the greatest threats to their health. We have modern diagnostic technologies capable of identifying disease. We have vaccines and health products that offer safe and effective disease prevention barriers. We also have medicines to treat the majority of the leading causes of death among girls and women.

But these advances are worth little unless we are able to deliver them to women living in the furthest regions of the developing world that need them most.

When people ask me what is needed, I explain that we need to find new ways to deliver and create demand for health solutions that already exist so they reach the developing world. When someone asks me how they can help, I let them know that donations and private investments are often the only sources of funding that allow us to test and develop promising health solutions that governments and businesses can’t afford to advance on their own.

In 2007, the World Health Organization and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids recognised voluntary medical male circumcision as an effective tool to reduce the risk of HIV infection among men. Randomised control trials confirmed that circumcised men are 60% less likely to acquire HIV from their female partner.

This exciting development clashed with an onslaught of skepticism by many global health experts who believed it would be impossible to convince men to undergo this simple procedure. Even if demand for the service could be created, many believed it would be impractical and too costly to make it widely available, particularly across sub-Saharan Africa where the HIV epidemic maintains a stronghold.

With philanthropic contributions of approximately R4 561 250, a circumcision programme was launched in Zambia and later expanded in neighboring countries. They were able to prove, through communications campaigns, that they could create demand for circumcision among young males. The programme further demonstrated that the service could be offered safely and cost-effectively, at scale.

Between 2007 and 2012, voluntary medical male circumcision services were provided to more than 400 000 men in seven countries – Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Using the World Bank-approved DALY metric, the circumcision interventions added 503 521 years of healthy life.

Combined with efforts from other health organisations, local governments and with support from international donors, more than 1.1-million African men have been circumcised – moving us even closer to an Aids-free generation.

It is time to channel this private investment leverage potential to meet the urgent, comprehensive health needs of girls and women.


An opportunity for girls and women

There are a number of existing health solutions for girls and women that have the same catalytic potential as male circumcision. But, private investments are needed to prove they can be adapted and implemented to fit a developing country context.

Health is the foundation upon which a stable society can develop. Right now, too many women are held back from reaching their full potential because of poor health – reinforcing a cycle of stagnant social and economic growth.

We know that every day millions of girls and young women are held back from going to school; they struggle to support themselves and their families; and they too often sacrifice their personal dreams because they or someone they love are affected by health issues such as HIV, malaria, malnutrition, or because they experience an unintended pregnancy.

Melinda Gates said it best when she stated that the global community needs to unleash the 'boundless potential' of girls and women which, for too long, has been locked up by poor health and inequity.

The statistics speak for themselves. Today, 75% of HIV infections among 15- to 24-year-olds in sub-Saharan Africa are young women, and up to one-half of girls in developing countries become mothers before the age of 18, largely due to lack of access to modern family planning options.

Ten health solutions were identified, which were believed to have catalytic potential. What will get these solutions off the ground is private investment from individuals and corporations. That’s why, throughout the next year, discussions will be held with philanthropists and corporations to discuss how they can work together around this important issue and create high-impact, sustainable health solutions for girls and women.

There is nothing more powerful than an idea and an opportunity whose time has come. We already possess the tools and power to revolutionise the health of girls and women on a global scale. Women delivered for us; it’s time we deliver for them.

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