Global Health

Collaborative, Patient-Focused Solutions to Take on Non-Communicable Diseases [Webinar Recap]

Article | April 1, 2021

As countries gain ground against extreme poverty, many struggle with a subtler threat: the rise of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lung disease are on the rise around the world, killing more than 70% of the global population each year. However, as the challenge grows, so does the roster of problem solvers finding powerful ways to treat patients with low or no healthcare access. 

IIE webinar on 3 novel partnership models to increase access to NCD care

For our seventh episode of the Inclusive Innovation Exchange, Resonance’s Marissa Gilman and Chantal Akinyemi spoke with leaders from three organizations pushing the boundaries of NCD treatment and access to care:

  • James Headen Pfitzer, Director of Access Accelerated, a coalition of companies and implementing partners that create scalable and sustainable NCD solutions in low- and middle-income countries
  • Javier Lozano Garza, Co-Founder/CEO at Clínicas del Azúcar, a novel network of low-cost clinics for diabetes care
  • Dr. Le Thi Thu Hien, the Vietnam Program Director for PATH, an NGO working to accelerate health equity through innovation

Below, we share three takeaways from our conversation on how to improve non-communicable disease outcomes.

3 Ways to Improve Non-Communicable Disease Outcomes 

1. Prioritize fit-for-purpose partnerships.

Augment organizational strategy with targeted partnerships to solve specific challenges that you can’t tackle alone.

Because of their ongoing nature, NCDs are difficult and expensive to treat in any context. This is particularly true in low- and middle-income countries, where nearly three-quarters of all NCD deaths occur. All three of our panelists referenced the importance of partnerships to solve for the complexity of this challenge. NCD-focused organizations must collaborate with partners to achieve success. Each partnership should be designed to meet specific outcomes, whether that’s more funding, better patient insights, improved access to patients, or something else entirely. 

PATH’s Vietnam Program Director, Dr. Le Hien, noted that NCDs accounted for 77% of all deaths in her country in 2016, and that most people with diabetes aren’t aware they have it. PATH has forged a strong partnership with Vietnam’s Ministry of Health to ensure the sustainability and scalability of NCD treatment across the country. But they also partner with community volunteers to provide education about risk factors; with local supermarkets to increase screening; and with the private sector to access financing, technical support, and essential equipment. 

Because of these integrations, PATH screened more than forty thousand people for hypertension last year, despite the pandemic. “We try as much as possible to bring in more partnership,” Hien said. “Broad partnership means we can reach more people and provide more access to care.”

2. Understand and track the patient journey.

Scour patient habits and data for clues to successful health interventions.

In many cases, patients with NCDs eventually give up on managing their disease. Javier Lozano said that, in Mexico, 80% of people with diabetes or hypertension simply don’t treat it. “They went to a doctor or government clinic, but it was too expensive or took too much time, or wasn’t the quality they expected.” He lamented that many people defer action for years and are only reminded of their disease when they experience complications like blurry vision or pain in their legs. 

Lozano added that NCDs are a huge problem “not only from a medical perspective but just in how NCDs relate to everyday life.” So his company, Clínicas del Azúcar, mapped the diabetes patient journey to reveal insights that could lead to better care and outcomes. Lozano aimed to design solutions that met patients on their own journey. Clínicas del Azúcar experimented with different program designs, such as an annual fixed-fee price that included insulin and medications. They monitored what happened to patients once they began or left treatment. And they tested new ways to engage, such as putting clinics next to supermarkets so that patients could easily receive treatment before or after doing their grocery shopping.

Through a partnership with a large consulting firm, the company also established a Behavior Change Learning Lab to scan thousands of patient data points for behavioral patterns that affect outcomes. The Lab’s goal is to scale effective, affordable interventions to millions of others living with diabetes in Mexico and beyond. The company is also looking at how innovators can work together to leverage customer acquisition, knowledge, and tools to lower the cost of care and increase patient retention. 

3. Explore market-based approaches to NCD care.

Creativity, exploration, and cross-sector collaboration can spur transformative change.

While funders and the public sector are crucial partners in almost any healthcare initiative, solutions that empower consumers have the potential to create lasting change. James Pfitzer of Access Accelerated said that funding for global public health and NCDs was “very tricky.” He urged governments and funders to consider not only how to fund valuable interventions for patients, but how to ensure those interventions are feasible after the funding is gone. “You can’t fix it all—you have to be thoughtful [about sustainability] before making an intervention,” he said. He also pointed out that major development agencies could improve NCD outcomes by coordinating a global approach (such as a multi-stakeholder initiative) and using implementers to effectively reach consumers and spur innovation. 

Lozano provided a concrete example of a sustainable, market-based approach: Clínicas del Azúcar’s diabetes patients actually pay four times less in out-of-pocket diabetes costs ($250, compared to $1,000) than they would elsewhere—yet Clínicas del Azúcar is a for-profit chain of clinics. The challenge is that diabetes care is typically low margin, with high patient acquisition, care, and retention costs. “Diabetes is well-known; there are great doctors, great diagnostics. The problem is how you organize care and retain the patient.” His team hopes to leverage customer acquisition, knowledge, tools, cost of care, and retention models from other digital-centric industries to reduce NCD death rates more quickly, with higher, more sustainable margins. 

Collaborative, Patient-Focused Solutions For Non-Communicable Diseases

By employing cross-sector collaboration, digital tools, and market-based approaches, Lozano, Pfitzer, and Hien are transforming traditional approaches to treatment—paving the way for better care and health outcomes for people living with NCDs in emerging markets and beyond.

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