You never really think about oxygen until you desperately need it. Yet, no matter where one lives, access to oxygen can be a matter of life or death. Having personally had an anaphylactic reaction, I know the discomfort and anxiety that one feels when having difficulty breathing. Moreover, in my work as an EMT on Santa Clara University’s campus, I carry and administer oxygen quite frequently. For us it’s routine and as members of the developed world, we often take access to medical oxygen for granted. But for millions of our fellow human beings, an unjust social equilibrium exists in which they don’t have this privilege.
I first realized the gravity of this health inequity when I spent two months working in a health setting in Uganda. As a 2017 Global Social Benefit Fellow for Miller Center, I spent last summer conducting action research in Nansana, Uganda at a health clinic run by a social enterprise called Nurture Africa. One weekend while in rural Uganda, one of the other fellows had an allergic reaction. I remember feeling so helpless because there was nothing we could do for him. We didn’t have Benadryl, oxygen or an EpiPen and we were in a small village, nowhere near a health facility that could handle such an emergency. Luckily his reaction was mild, but it still scares me to think about what could have happened had he had a more serious reaction and gone into anaphylactic shock.
Although this was an isolated experience, it opened my eyes to the fact that this is the way that most people in developing areas actually live. They live in a reality without access to lifesaving medication or any sort of emergency care. And even if one can get to a health facility, it’s likely the facility won’t have the means to effectively treat them. While in Uganda, I had the opportunity to visit a handful of medical clinics, but Nurture Africa, along with several other private clinics, did not have medical oxygen. Although the World Health Organization lists oxygen as an essential medication, lack of affordability leaves it difficult to find in health centers in the developing world.
That’s where HewaTele comes in, a true game-changer in health system development and delivery in sub-Saharan Africa. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, the mission of HewaTele is to provide a regular supply of medical oxygen at affordable rates to reduce delay in access to emergency healthcare. As a member of the GE healthymagination and Miller Center Mother and Child Program, HewaTele, along with the 14 other social enterprises in the first cohort, participated in a 6 month, online accelerator course. Through this program the social entrepreneurs strengthened and refined their business models, improved their strategic thought processes and planned for sustainable scaling. At the end of the program, each enterprise articulated their business plans, which demonstrated impact, growth and long-term financial sustainability, to potential investors and supporters.
A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to speak with Dr. Steve Adudans, the Executive Director of the Center for Public Health and Development (CPHD), the organization that designed and developed HewaTele as a social enterprise. Adudans is actively involved in HewaTele’s operations and was the enterprise’s representative during the healthymagination program. Speaking with him was truly inspirational; he exudes passion and commitment and it was incredibly motivating to hear about the ways in which GE’s healthcare expertise and the Miller Center’s business acumen have positively influenced HewaTele’s operations and expansion plans.
HewaTele’s work exemplifies the power of collaboration to create systemic change. In 2014, HewaTele received $1 million in seed funding from the GE Foundation, the philanthropic branch of GE. After completing the in-depth mentoring and acceleration process through the healthymagination program, HewaTele received a $1 million grant from Grand Challenges Canada. Hewa Tele was able to leverage the Grand Challenges Canada funding to raise matching contributions from UNICEF and the Kenyan government. With this money, HewaTele opened two fully operational oxygen plants in Kenya in 2017.
Additionally, HewaTele has capitalized on connections made with other healthymagination enterprises and is currently in talks to partner with and provide medical oxygen to Lwala Community Alliance, Health Builders and Access Afya. Looking forward, HewaTele plans to build two new oxygen plants in Uganda and Tanzania, expanding their geographic reach and scaling their social impact. By working to reduce the health disparities evident in their societies, social enterprises like HewaTele engage and empower communities to live healthier, more fulfilling lives.
It’s inspiring to hear stories of the ways in which being a part of the healthymagination program has allowed enterprises to better articulate their business models and begin to execute their plans for sustainable scaling. I am confident that this collaborative effort by the Miller Center and GE has helped create a more interconnected ecosystem surrounding health enterprises and has consequently improved maternal and child health outcomes.
On March 1, 2018, the second cohort of the healthymagination program, consisting of 11 social enterprises, will be pitching to potential investors and supporters at the Sankalp Africa Summit in Nairobi. Please join us at Sankalp to support the growth of our next class of health enterprises and show your commitment to improving maternal and child health throughout our global communities.
Photos courtesy of Santa Clara University and Hewatele