Collection No 1

frog

Oxygen is Medicine

The narrow dirt road that leads northwest to Siaya County Hospital gets choppier as we near our destination. The driver slows, changes gears, and charges ahead, completely unfazed by the 12-inch ruts and puddles in the road, or by the workers carrying crops and supplies draped over bicycles along the sides. Roads are more like guidelines in rural East Africa.

Stephanie Meier, Ravi Chhatpar and I are representing frog on the ground in Kenya and Rwanda to learn more about a very harsh reality: Rwanda and Kenya experience an infant mortality rate that is eight to ten times greater than that of the U.S. The top six causes are all related to respiratory failure, and in many cases these deaths are avoidable if patients receive proper ventilation and oxygen. To address this, we’re designing a business that will provide rural hospitals and health centers with access to medical oxygen, so these avoidable deaths can be dramatically reduced.

We will spend half of our time in Kenya, accompanied by several colleagues from the Center for Public Health and Development (CPHD). With their help, and with the help of The Access Project in Rwanda, we’re meeting with an impressive lineup of health care professionals all over the two countries. With equipment and funding from the GE Foundation, and support from UNICEF and Assist International, we’ll pilot this business at one location in each country, learn from our mistakes, make improvements, and scale the model across other regions over the course of the next few years.

To accomplish this, we’ll spend many weeks conducting research in the hospitals, health centers, and other facilities that make up the public health care system to understand the need for oxygen and what’s needed to make oxygen demand grow. We’ll then come up with a business model that can satisfy these conditions in a way that is safe, sustainable, and capable of growing. After one week, here’s what we’ve learned so far:

1. Providing access to medical oxygen is not a trivial challenge, nor is it the only challenge. Infrastructure is unreliable, budgets are slim, and health care workers and maintenance professionals are too few and too burdened. With limited resources, hospital administrators are forced to make impossible tradeoffs when replenishing supplies, which often means that oxygen is de-prioritized in favor of fluids, gauze, and other essentials.

2. Due to the complicated nature of the public health care ecosystem, a Public-Private-Partnership model will likely be necessary. This will involve multiple partners from the government and private sector alike, to drive support and awareness from the top down as well as the bottom up.

As our SUV pulled out of Siaya I turned to take one last look at the facility. Chipped paint, muddy walkways, and empty supply cabinets are no match for the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the health care professionals who work here. It’s truly remarkable the impact they can make in spite of the challenging conditions. I can only hope we’re half as clever in our approach to oxygen.

Anthony Gregorio

Anthony helps companies devise strategies for new products and services designed for top line growth.

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