Health Care’s New Frontier

Because access to medicine in poor countries is a multifaceted challenge, it is best tackled by several parties. Lasting, collaborative relationships among pharmaceutical companies, governments, nonprofit organizations, and community leaders are needed to help disadvantaged populations overcome their health-care constraints.

BEIJING – Developing countries face a seemingly insurmountable hurdle in providing health care to their rapidly growing – or, in some cases, rapidly aging – populations, especially as health systems become increasingly over-burdened and infections and other diseases spread. Because access to medicine in these regions is a multifaceted challenge, it is best tackled by several parties.

Lasting, collaborative relationships among pharmaceutical companies, governments, nonprofit organizations, and community leaders are needed to help disadvantaged populations overcome their health-care challenges. Together, these parties should take a binary approach, addressing both “hardware” factors (which remain constant, such as physical distance to treatment centers and elongated supply chains) and “software” factors (the intangibles that vary greatly in each region, such as the role of family and cultural beliefs).

These principles are especially true in places like China’s rural Xinjiang province, where life expectancy is stunted at 67 years (compared to 73.5 for China as a whole), and lack of access to health care undermines well-being. Xinjiang covers nearly 650,000 square miles (1.7 million square kilometers), but it is home to only 21 million people, many of whom are members of nomadic tribes. From an economic standpoint, Xinjiang’s resilience is crucial to China’s economic growth strategy – it is seen as the country’s gateway to the west.

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