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Mainstreaming Private Health Sector Contributions

December 9, 2022

Over the last several decades, USAID investments in the private health sector have brought increased attention to the sector and reshaped how donors and governments view its contributions. Historically, most defined the private health sector narrowly to focus on pharmaceutical manufacturers and large companies. More recently, the full diversity and range of private actors – from small drug shops to midwife practices to large hospitals—has gained greater prominence in global dialogue. Nowhere is this shift more evident than the recent International Conference on Family Planning in Pattaya City, Thailand.

At past ICFP conferences, the private sector has been siloed into its own track or overlooked altogether. This year, private sector presentations and panels were integrated in almost every conference track. Sessions on gender equality, empowerment, and reproductive rights highlighted the role that private providers can play to address intimate partner violence. Panels on expanding access delved into integrating family planning services and expanding the method mix within private facilities. Discussions on quality featured new ways to measure and test solutions that reflect the specific operating environments of private health care providers. And presentations on contraceptive security showcased digital solutions within private sector supply chains.

As longtime private sector health champions, Abt has helped drive this mainstreaming through our global USAID-funded Sustaining Health Outcomes through the Private Sector (SHOPS) Plus project as well as bilateral programs in Benin, Ethiopia, India, and Mozambique, among others. At ICFP, we presented innovative solutions and lessons to accelerate the private health sector’s contributions to family planning access and use:

  • Support governments to steward and mobilize private sector resources for family planning: In Tanzania, Abt collaborated with public and private stakeholders to implement an evidence-based total market approach to strengthen contraceptive security. We used qualitative and quantitative insights—including sales data from private distributors—to help governments and donors re-target subsidies and better inform government procurement. With Abt, Tanzania’s health ministry also developed and rolled out new strategic planning tools for local governments to better engage private providers and an improved policy framework to strengthen contraceptive security through diversified, increased access to services and supplies. Private suppliers also introduced new sustainably priced private family planning products and commercial suppliers more than doubled their annual sales.
  • Sustain access to family planning in conflict and insecure settings. Abt has led the US government’s private sector health investments in Afghanistan for several years, all of which focused on maternal and child health and family planning. Afghanistan’s private health sector is now the main artery for health support to the Afghan people. Abt partnered with and helped grow the Afghan Social Marketing Organization (ASMO), a trusted non-governmental organization and major supplier of modern contraceptives. ASMO’s multimedia social behavior change initiatives reached 15 million people through social media and community mobilization. Today, ASMO supports a significant percent of family planning access in the country.
  • Identify tailored, proven strategies to grow and strengthen family planning markets What works to improve contraceptive access, choice, and sustainability? In a review of six countries’ demographic and health data related to modern contraceptive prevalence rates, Abt researchers examined how private sector actors contribute to growth in family planning use, and identified factors and strategies for countries to replicate at various stages of market maturity.
  • Leverage trust and tech to drive demand for family planning information and services. Talking about sexual and reproductive health is taboo in India, and myths and misinformation are common among youth. Abt partnered with an Indian vendor to create Hello Jubi, a chatbot for youth to privately ask questions and learn about safe family planning practices through interactive questions, illustrations, and guided conversations. This gamified, conversational app, powered by natural language processing, is providing credible, accurate sexual health information for India’s digitally savvy youth. Used in seven states, it now targets 2 million adolescents through their schools’ sex education curriculum. Its users are 70% male and they spend twice as long on the app compared to market data from similar products—revealing the gaps in sexual health information among male youth.

Read more about Abt’s work and lessons from private sector engagement in the health system in the SHOPS Plus project final report.

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