TACOMA, Washington — Many in the world do not have access to healthcare, and even for those that do, many are unable to pay expensive out-of-pocket costs. In fact, 800 million people spend at least 10% of their household budgets on health expenses, which then pushes 100 million of these individuals into extreme poverty. And now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and recession, healthcare costs are likely to impoverish millions more. The novel coronavirus has brought the issue of global health firmly to the foreground, demonstrating the urgent necessity of guaranteeing universal health coverage (UHC) for all people.
Such is the mission that has long motivated Edward Booty, CEO and founder of reach52—a Singapore-based social enterprise that was recently awarded funding from UNICEF. Reach52 uses technology and community outreach to widen access to health services while simultaneously lowering their costs, and its ultimate goal is to reach the 52% of the world’s population who currently lack recourse to affordable medical care.
After graduating from university in 2010, Booty traveled to India and spent eight months interning for a pharmaceutical company that sold discounted medicine to people living in rural areas. Upon his return to the U.K. Booty worked first in consultancy and then for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), but the idea of harnessing business and technology to effect social change stuck with him. As he explained in an interview with The Straits Times, “Healthcare is an essential human right, but it doesn’t reach 52% of our planet and that’s just a moral and social injustice.”
Booty moved to Singapore in 2015 and created reach52 two years later in 2017. Seeking to test his model in countries where technology is available but healthcare is extremely expensive, he focused initially on rural and low-income areas in Asia. Today his organization has two arms, the first of which is a not-for-profit service that extends healthcare systems’ reach by bringing together local communities, medical providers and government bodies.
How Reach52’s Aids Local Communities
The process might seem complex, but its steps can be broken down. First, reach52 trains local community members (the majority of whom are women) as Access Managers. Then, Managers use reach52’s offline-first apps on a smartphone or tablet in order to:
- Profile other residents (for example recording their current symptoms and medical history)
- Screen residents and deliver public health programs that concentrate on issues highlighted by the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (including chronic and infectious diseases, and also maternal and child health)
- Ensure that patients receive much-needed treatment by connecting them to healthcare providers
Finally, reach52 shares the knowledge and data it has gained with government bodies and medical providers so as to facilitate further improvements to the country’s healthcare systems.
On the other hand, reach52 for Business is the side of the enterprise that collaborates with companies in the private sector, including pharmacy, Medtech and insurance organizations, to deliver discounted medical products and services to communities that do not have access to these services for geographic or socioeconomic reasons.
Here, Access Agents recruited again from the local community use reach52’s app to:
- Take pictures of residents’ prescriptions
- Order medications and process cash and mobile payments
- Organize the delivery and pickup of medications at designated access points
Like its counterpart, reach52 for Business also shares insights with partners in the private sector to create, refine and scale effective healthcare solutions.
Evidence of reach52’s impact is visible in the Philippines, where maternal and neonatal mortality rates remain high and 18.4% of people live on less than $1.25 per day. Moreover, although Filipinos are technically entitled to government-provided healthcare through PhilHealth, public facilities are usually perceived as providing lower levels of care, and only 10% of health workers serve in the rural areas that are inhabited by 52% of the country’s total population.
Recent examples of initiatives that reach52 has launched in the Philippines include a program for the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes and hypertension—with blood panels typically costing $50, these diseases are unaffordable for many—in addition to a service for heavily discounted and mobile ultrasounds. The latter project targets the 80% of pregnant women in rural areas who never receive this essential care, and it enables midwives who are conducting the scans to identify problems and refer expectant mothers to OB-GYNs.
Poverty and healthcare are inextricably linked. Even as over half of the world’s population remains shut out from essential health services, gains in health statistics provide for 25% of economic growth in low-and-middle-income countries. With the international community now battling a deadly pandemic, the necessity of ensuring access to quality, affordable healthcare is more apparent than ever.
Therefore, the work that reach52 accomplishes in rural Asian communities, as well as ones in Africa, Australia and South America, demonstrates that the combination of innovative business practices and technology designs can impact the lives of millions of people. Edward Booty is right: healthcare is a human right, and none of us should be forced to go without it.
– Angie Grigsby