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Lessons From My Years in Private Sector Engagement for Women’s Health

June 29, 2023

Private sector health programs have been the focus of my career. As deputy director of USAID’s Sustaining Health Outcomes through the Private Sector (SHOPS) Plus project, I oversaw successful private sector-driven initiatives in 29 countries to tackle COVID, TB, HIV, childhood diarrhea—and especially family planning. These programs taught me valuable lessons about how, when, and why to engage with the private sector to achieve health outcomes.

Donors increasingly value private sector contributions to family planning, including through for-profit and non-profit clinics, pharmacies, and associations. Private sector involvement has moved from the sidelines to the forefront of donor and government efforts to accelerate the modern contraceptive prevalence rate (mCPR). In fact, it often plays a decisive role in whether these efforts will succeed.

How do we know? Through SHOPS Plus, we analyzed factors influencing how family planning markets grow and the role the private sector plays in that growth. We examined six countries—Bangladesh, Cambodia, Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, and Tanzania—and found the private sector played an increasingly significant role in the family planning market as mCPR grew. Our synthesis notes several lessons and considerations that donors and governments can use to grow family planning markets.

As a lecturer at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health this summer, I had the pleasure of sharing these insights with students. We focused on women health care workers—clinical officers, midwives, pharmacists, and drug shop owners—and their roles in the private sector workforce. In pulling together case examples from Nigeria, Afghanistan and Madagascar, I was struck by the richness of SHOPS Plus interventions and attention to adaptations to meet the needs of these women providers. There are still many valuable lessons within this work.

As I prepare to travel to Rwanda for Women Deliver, the world’s biggest gender conference, where reproductive rights will be front and center on the agenda, I am committed to sharing these. I’ve seen how vital the private sector is to giving people family planning options—and how critical women providers are in reshaping the narrative of who delivers care in-country. I’ll continue advocating for a seat at the table for the private sector and women in the private health workforce, essential factors in giving all people more agency in how they live their lives.

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