Packed securely inside the boxes in the picture above was a new mammography system, being ferried upstream from the Port of Lamu in Kenya, where I traveled last month, to a small rural town, where women were in need of access to screening.
Every patient everywhere in the world deserves such access.
But the boxes alone won't bring it to them. In healthcare, solutions don't come in boxes.
Because another challenge comes on the other side of the water, where health workers must be able to use the equipment effectively once it arrives.
While Sub-Saharan Africa makes up 11% of the world's population and 25% of the world's disease burden, it contains just 3% of the world's health workers. In fact, recent research suggests that Africa will be short six million healthcare workers by 2030.
That's six million health workers, many who therefore won't be on the other side of the water to use the technology.
Six million mammography machines, six million of any technology, won't fix that challenge – and this is coming from someone who leads a healthcare technology company.
But work like what the Ministry of Health in Kenya is undertaking will.
Alongside more than 100 GE employees in Kenya for whom this effort is personal, the Ministry has modernized 70 hospitals across the country's 47 counties, with 28 additional hospitals underway. They've brought new diagnostic technology, like digital x-rays and ultrasound, into 90% of level 5 hospitals, enabling more facilities to offer in-house mammography exams. This is a massive transformation in a short time period.
Now the real solution starts.
While I was in Nairobi in June, we launched a first of its kind Skills and Training Institute with an ambitious goal: by 2020, train 10,000 healthcare professionals across Kenya and East Africa. Provide expert education to the workers who will now have this new technology in modernized hospitals, so they are able to use it. Develop biomedical engineers, radiologists and technicians, so we can reduce the skills gap, improve job prospects and build capacity for a solid national healthcare system.
Help ensure the healthcare professionals who receive the boxes with a new mammography system on the other side of the water feel confident in their ability to effectively use it and help patients.
Earlier this year, we announced a partnership with the Nigerian government and USAID to train 1,300 midwives on portable ultrasound equipment – impacting two million expectant mothers and helping drive down maternal-infant mortality rates in the coming years, as well as a similar program in Ghana and plans to scale elsewhere in Africa.
Search emerging markets and you might be convinced these regions are too risky for investment. But in healthcare, this is one of the pressing obligations of our time – the United Nations has declared it one of its Sustainable Development Goals. Companies, NGOs, private sector entities – like GE Healthcare – with knowledge, resources and ability must join together to help these regions' emergence continue and accelerate.
The photograph of the boxes on the boat above was actually taken by Terri Bresenham, who was with me on this recent trip to Africa and who we say is a woman on a mission for the 5.8 billion people with limited healthcare access. This mission is so important that she has activated an entire Sustainable Healthcare Solutions team in GE Healthcareto partner across the public and private sector and help achieve better health for all.
Sustainable Healthcare Solutions don't come in boxes. They come in partnerships. In understanding the root causes of a challenge. In wanting to do well while doing good.
Truly sustainable solutions cease to be solutions and become simply an embedded and lasting part of the healthcare infrastructure in places like Africa, which in turn offer their populations a level of healthcare on par with the best of the world. They are reason #3.
John Flannery is President and CEO at GE Healthcare