Building Sustainable and Resilient Healthcare Infrastructure through International Collaboration under the Framework of the Belt & Road Initiative

The Spread of the novel coronavirus across the world has devastated people’s lives, damaged their physical and mental health, and had a negative impact on social well-being.

However, it has also served as a wake-up call, raising people’s awareness of the importance of building sustainable and resilient healthcare infrastructure.

Collaboration has been crucial in the global response to the pandemic: stakeholders from different sectors and countries have shared information and best practices, coordinated medical supplies, engaged in the joint R&D of vaccines and medicines and supported each other to face the challenges created by the pandemic. This collaboration should be strengthened, as no single country can win the battle against the novel coronavirus alone.

The Belt & Road Initiative, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, is a key enabler of such international collaboration. The initiative is a vision for strengthened economic cooperation. Belt & Road projects are mainly focused on sectors such as energy, transportation, manufacturing and construction, where the public sector plays an indispensable leading role.

However, President Xi proposed building a “Health Silk Road” in 2017, a concept under the overarching Belt & Road Initiative framework, which has been given a new meaning and mission amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, namely, to build a global community of health for all and protect the life and health of people in all countries.

Companies and government entities can leverage the Belt & Road Initiative, as it has had an extensive impact and has achieved success through collaboration in infrastructure. The initiative offers an opportunity to advance the goal of building sustainable healthcare, which can ensure universal healthcare access and adapt to unexpected shocks.

Healthcare systems are highly dependent on accurate and up-to-date information on health determinants, health systems performance and health status. The business sector can support the development of a reliable and effective healthcare information network, such as building a real-world data platform to allow service improvement.

In fact, there are abundant opportunities for the business sector to contribute to all of the building blocks of a sustainable healthcare system.

These opportunities include social listening technology to capture healthcare needs, healthcare information and data tools, health management tools, e-triage based on artificial intelligence, online disease management, online training and electronic patient records. Technology can also support pharmaceutical companies in developing innovative medicines and reducing costs. By taking part, businesses stand to benefit commercially, and can also contribute to the greater good.

Good health services should be able to deliver effective, safe and high-quality personal and non-personal health interventions to those who need them, whenever and wherever they are needed, with the minimum waste of resources. In this respect, the business sector could leverage technology initiatives to connect healthcare services in urban and rural areas or developed and less developed regions, and provide access for vulnerable groups such as women and children.

The healthcare workforce is an essential building block of any healthcare system. This workforce requires access to quality education and training. The business sector could leverage technology and multi-industry or multi-region collaborations to provide equal access to quality education and training for the health workforce in areas with limited resources to improve healthcare quality and coverage.

An effective healthcare system will ensure equitable access to essential medical products, vaccines and technologies that are high-quality, safe, effective and cost-effective. Businesses could develop solutions to promote equal access to products, such as providing qualified vaccines and affordable medicines to improve access and extend cover to promote the well-being of all. In addition, businesses could promote safe and reliable products and technologies and encourage environmental responsiveness, such as using paperless e-detailing for medical communication.

A sustainable and resilient healthcare system should also focus on potential increases in healthcare costs and develop new models to finance a preventive intersectoral approach, as well as increase resource efficiency.

The business sector could develop innovations for financial inclusion and security, such as creating more effective charitable platforms to support more people receiving appropriate care and treatment.

The sixth building block, leadership and governance, is being led by governments around the world, which are developing sustainable and resilient healthcare infrastructure for the well-being of people. The business sector should act as strong support for governments to secure effective oversight, coalition building and the provision of appropriate regulations and incentives, as well as effective system design.

A one-size-fits-all approach will not be effective in implementing healthcare systems worldwide. Companies will need to identify local market healthcare needs, locate the most urgent challenges, identify the major disease burden and trends then analyze the root causes to find the most urgent healthcare unmet needs.

For some countries, the urgent need is to establish universal access to affordable primary care, while for others, it is to improve efficiency, control cost, and ensure the right decisions are made.

They will also need to respect the local markets they are operating in and identify the most effective product offerings and collaboration approach, based on local policy and regulations, as well as the local cultural and religious context.

Companies can engage the local public sector in the regions where they operate, aligning with national development goals and strategic priorities to improve social welfare and gain support. They can also engage non-governmental organisations with local expertise. Hiring and developing local talents will also be a crucial pillar, as they have familiarity with the local context. Local partners can also share technology and management know-how and offer experience and guidance.

The global challenges confronting us are unprecedented, yet they also offer a rare window of opportunity to restore solidarity and trust, strengthen preparations for future crises, and facilitate sustainable development.

Let future generations look back on 2020 as the year the business sector closed the gap by leveraging innovative technology to build sustainable and resilient healthcare infrastructure. A good first step would be to help realise the Health Silk Road through concrete actions and collaborations.

Author: Chen Baiping;  Managing Director & Partner at BCG’s Beijing Office. He is also a Member of the Leadership team for BCG’s Healthcare practice in China.