Global networks of innovation will be needed to solve the healthcare challenges of the future
The rapid pace of societal evolution in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is met by systemic challenges that accompany the changing face of healthcare – including evolving profiles of disease burden, rising costs of healthcare and resource scarcities that imperil the progress of global health security. These challenges have been aggravated manyfold by the Covid-19 pandemic, and must be met by solutions that appropriately consider the nuanced cultural, financial, and socio-political characteristics that influence population health. This inevitably requires a space for multidisciplinary dialogue and an openness to international solutions that can be retrofitted to the local context.
Traditionally, the Caribbean & continental Africa have turned to their larger Anglophone contemporaries – the United States & Great Britain – as the emblematic North Stars informing the solution of its systemic problems. However, despite the linguistic similarity of the United States to the Caribbean, many key socio-economic factors that influence quality of life in the Caribbean states bear greater semblance to those seen in Latin America. The structural models that may be effective driving industry in the United States are simply not directly applicable to nuanced and geographically fragmented spaces like the Caribbean. This incompatibility is exaggerated in comparing their healthcare systems, wherein the United States boasts a hybridized system of care delivery with unique challenges that are not comparable to a large majority of Caribbean and Latin American states.
Some healthcare systems are driven by earnings to a greater extent than others
Though nation-states must be strong enough to stand alone, they must be wise enough to stand together, and regions like the English-speaking Caribbean must transcend the linguistic borders and learn from its regional hispanic neighbors to effectively drive sustainable development. As healthcare sectors in these regions mature at different rates and thus face dissimilar challenges, key learnings may be garnered, refined and shared to instruct best-practices in the days to come. On examining healthcare systems in Latin America, one quickly finds insight into challenges, trends and opportunities that may direct strategies in health policy and administration in emerging markets around the world.
Ageing populations will drive increased demand for healthcare
As demographic changes and high rates of urbanization drive increases in non-communicable diseases, the capacity and resources of healthcare systems in Latin America have been increasingly encumbered with growing demand for healthcare services. This is particularly threatening to the many economically vulnerable states within that region, wherein economic welfare is particularly dependent on a robust and productive workforce. Approximately 80% of adults over 60 years of age in these regions have one or more chronic diseases, mushrooming the regional demand for cardiac care and geriatric care services. This growing concern must be met by the participation of a broad spread of stakeholders to navigate the challenges that accompany healthcare delivery at a broader level.
Healthcare needs of older persons will increase significantly
The growth in demand for healthcare services cannot be met by the public sector
Though any functioning healthcare system requires integrated participation by all collaborators, governments have traditionally played leadership roles as custodians of health security in emerging markets. Compared to other emerging economies around the world – especially within Asia & Africa – governments across Latin America and the Caribbean are heavily involved in the development and financing of healthcare.
Historically, the private sector has de facto serviced a relatively small portion of the healthcare needs of the local populus. Within key nations, a significant share of such private services is directed towards the pursuit international patronage of services intended to drive foreign currency revenues through medical tourism. Such services are often housed in first-class institutions seeking to exploit the financial – and sometimes regulatory – arbitrage between the operational and professional costs of delivering healthcare in the region compared with that in high-income economies.
Many offerings within these institutions are marketed as best-in-class services and are beyond the purchasing power of the local population. With the surges in population-level demand for healthcare services, there is increasing pressure for the private and developmental sectors to evolve their business models and mandates to be able to serve the needs of national healthcare at a more substantial level.
Public-private partnerships will be key
Greater levels of multi-stakeholder collaboration will be required to meet growing healthcare needs
The dualistic challenges of the public and private sectors – in providing quality services at scale and creating functional business models in low-income populations – necessitate greater levels of multi-stakeholder collaboration. Governments, investors, healthcare providers, and multinational corporations must seek dialogue, alignment and synergy. The traditional idiomatic wisdom that ‘muchas manos en la olla echan el guiso a perder’ – analogized to ‘too many cooks spoiling the broth’ – has been abandoned in favor of more collaborative and integrated models of healthcare delivery. A spate of public-private partnerships in healthcare have thus been borne from this inevitable shift. Within the last two decades, several such public-private partnerships have been pursued by Latin American governments – with countries such as Mexico and Peru leading the pack. Such partnerships have enabled accelerated business expansion through both connecting private providers with a large paying market and providing high-quality services at scale. It is likely that the scope and number of these partnerships will increase in the days to come.
As healthcare continues to evolve rapidly within and beyond Covid-19, the tailwinds of macro-trends identified in Latin America will slowly extend into the Caribbean. The current pandemic has impelled stakeholders of healthcare to seek alternative delivery models to meet the burgeoning faces of healthcare demand. We must embrace greater levels of multi-stakeholder collaboration and multidisciplinary dialogue as we navigate the pandemic and beyond, to enable us to meet proverbial charge of the UN SDG 3 – ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all.
A Medical Doctor (MD. Ph.D. MSc.) and Entrepreneur with over 5-years experience as a Founder, Operator and Consultant to several businesses in the Caribbean. His academic