A pioneering collaboration aims to bring testing and primary care closer to home for more people in rural Rwanda — and globally.
In 1995, a person celebrating their 36th birthday in Rwanda would have reached a major milestone: They would have outlived the country's life expectancy.
More than two decades later, more Rwandans are celebrating many more birthdays. In 2017, the life expectancy in Rwanda reached 67 years. Today, Rwandans aren't just living longer, they're living healthier, too — and an innovative new collaboration is looking to build on this progress by helping to address a key gap: Rural healthcare.
A commitment to a healthier future
Ongoing health improvements start with the strong commitment demonstrated by the Government of Rwanda. By investing in health systems and universal health insurance, the country improved its citizens' life expectancy and expanded access to healthcare. As a result, the small country with a big vision climbed to 11th out of 51 African countries in achieving the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals aimed at improving health, as well as fighting poverty, protecting the environment and reducing inequality.
Despite the progress made, there's more work to be done. Disparities in care still hold many rural Rwandans back from better, healthier lives. According to the World Bank, about 60 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa live in areas where access to care is limited, and many of them don't have transportation to reach urban or regional healthcare centers. When resource-limited public health systems can't address the critical needs of their constituents, their people, societies and economies cannot flourish.
To combat this problem, the Rwandan Ministry of Health has set out to ensure that all Rwandans can access quality healthcare within a 30-minute walk from their homes. This strategy is focused on two things: building small community clinics, called health posts, in communities across the country, and increasing both the quantity and quality of healthcare services available at those facilities.
Strengthening rural care
To help achieve these ambitious goals, Abbott is collaborating with the Rwandan government through the Ministry of Health and the non-profit organization Society for Family Health Rwanda (SFHR) to create a pioneering new model for the decentralization of healthcare in the country — a "second-generation health post" that is designed to address key needs in rural areas by providing an expanded number of vital health services.
The program has already broken ground on eight new, second-generation health posts throughout the country's Bugesera district. Each health post will provide a wider range of services, such as prenatal and pediatric care, and testing and treatment for infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria, syphilis and hepatitis. Chronic or noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes and heart disease, are a focus, as well.
To ensure the health posts meet local needs, the program is engaging the community. In-person interviews and focus groups with patients in Rwanda are identifying key needs and providing strategic guidance so that each health post can get the support, equipment and resources it needs to serve the community. The collaboration also is boosting public awareness of infectious and chronic diseases, and the services available at the health posts.
To support the effort, Abbott is developing a new panel of prenatal rapid tests, designed to combine the most commonly needed infectious disease tests during pregnancy — HIV, hepatitis B, syphilis and malaria — into a single, easy-to-use package squarely designed for use in the health posts. This is one example of Abbott's work to advance testing technologies that meet a critical health need in developing countries, specifically designed and manufactured for use in challenging, resource-limited settings.
There's a business piece of the puzzle, too. Because each health post is independently run, Abbott and SFHR are providing training on basic business skills — such as budgeting and managing inventory, income and profits — to help the health post operators thrive.
The eight health posts are the linchpin of a six-month pilot program designed to evaluate the effectiveness of care — with an eye to creating "proof of concept" to drive broader expansion of the second-generation health posts. The evaluation will include a health economics outcome research study to demonstrate both the improvements in care and financial sustainability of the model.
Building tomorrow's markets
Our work in Rwanda reflects our commitment to shared impact, also known as shared value: how we create measurable business value for Abbott by identifying and addressing social problems that intersect with our business. This is an important strategy for us to grow our business in emerging and developing markets, which represent 41 percent of our sales today.
By building second-generation health posts, we're helping to bring primary testing and care closer to home for more people — with the goal of saving lives and reducing costs. By proving the effectiveness of this pioneering approach, we aim to demonstrate the value of expanding the reach of second-generation health posts across Rwanda and in other countries around the world. This will create new markets for high-quality diagnostics and medical products — which will grow opportunities for our business, as well. Abbott is already a leader in delivering rapid diagnostics to address some of the greatest disease burdens in developing countries. Expanding the reach of the new health posts creates new opportunities for us to reach even more people with our life-changing technologies.