Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Freedom from Hunger pilots HealthKeepers: Preventative Healthcare in a Basket

I'll start with Freedom from Hunger and their MicroBusiness for Health Initiative. I, of course, am biased towards this project as I was involved in the needs assessment which turned out to be my main graduate work. Ellen Vor der Bruegge was the presenter.

Quick summary: Preventative health products in a basket sold by an microcredit borrower in rural Ghana patterned after the Avon or Tupperware models that were successful in rural America beginning in the late 1800's.

FFH could be considered the new kid on campus, they are just launching their program. They have put together a team of ladies to pilot the business and provide feedback. The name of the business is HealthKeepers and I like the fact that the women sellers chose the name for the business. As expected, they sell insecticide treated nets, condoms, and ORS packets with zinc but they also sell a handful of products, which Ellen called their “door-openers”. What would you guess is their biggest seller? Now, this is a region where malaria is hyperendemic, polio still exists in pockets, and children die everyday from ailments such as diarrhea. The answer, drum roll.... athlete's foot powder. That in and of itself is amazing--no traditional public health intervention would focus on athlete's foot, yet, market feedback identified a quick and simple product that is viewed to have high value in terms of quality of life. I think the key is that they experimented, they put something out there and let the market respond. If athlete's foot cream gets the customers attention which allows the HealthKeeper to explain the cost-benefits of investing in an insecticide treated net then I hope they become the largest distributor of athlete's foot powder in the world. I also liked that they gave free products to their entrepreneurs to try out, creating converts of the products, and subsequently creating a very convincing sales force. They also allow the seller to give away some products in the village to stimulate demand. I also liked that they try to source products locally.

Some of their challenges: Pricing--so that all parties in the value chain are sustainable. They are constantly trying to balance their three goals: increased health protection, providing a living wage for the entrepreneur, as well as create a sustainable business themselves as the franchisor. Another main challenge, and it was echoed by other presenters, is free handouts by other programs. There must be dialogue between the various NGOs and government entities working to fight malaria. I personally feel that it is better to sell the nets, that it will be perceived with greater value, that it is more likely to be used and maintained, that it will lead to consistent supply and greatest penetration.

They are aiming high looking to have 4-5,000 HealthKeepers covering all of Ghana. I'm excited to watch their business grow over the next couple years. As they say at FFH, Onward!

Concept Paper
Blog Discussion among HealthKeeper staff
Chat with field director

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