The World Bank and Pfizer Inc. today announced they will collaborate to improve the healthcare infrastructure, specifically the supply chain, in developing countries, starting with Africa. The novel public-private collaboration will focus on enhanced use of Information and Communication Technologies' (ICT) transformative power to improve healthcare delivery. The project demonstrates both Pfizer's and the World Bank's commitment to improving healthcare delivery by creating a funding mechanism to expedite the identification of gaps in Africa's healthcare infrastructure and ultimately aid in the implementation of ICT solutions.

The effort will be part of the World Bank's new eTransform Initiative, which was formally launched today at a World Bank Spring Meeting side event attended by developing country ministers of finance and communications. The eTransform Initiative aims to convene public and private sector stakeholders to promote government transformation through the use of innovative ICTs. The goal is to use technology to increase government effectiveness and help governments in developing countries use their healthcare and other resources more efficiently.

About 270 million people in Africa lack regular access to even the most essential medicines.1 According to the World Health Organization (WHO), among the biggest obstacles to improved health outcomes are inadequate health delivery and financing mechanisms that place the heaviest burden on the poor and sick, who are the least able to pay.

"We recognize the importance of improving healthcare infrastructure in developing countries so more patients can have access to life-saving medicines," said Jean-Michel Halfon, president and general manager of Pfizer's Emerging Markets Business Unit. "This collaboration is the most recent example of Pfizer's Global Access strategy to improve healthcare access for low-income populations in emerging markets through non-traditional approaches that will contribute towards the development of commercially viable, sustainable delivery models."

The eTransform Initiative helps access global expertise through peer-to-peer networks of industry innovators and country leaders, and through a knowledge bank. It also establishes a mechanism to fast-track promising projects by funding their initial design. Under the eTransform Initiative, the World Bank and Pfizer will work together on knowledge-sharing initiatives. They will also work to set up a trust fund to finance innovative, ICT-based solutions to healthcare in developing countries.

The funding mechanism, or Healthcare Project Development Facility (HPDF), will be one of several sector-specific project development facilities within the eTransform Initiative. The HPDF entails that countries submit grant requests to support a competitively-bid feasibility study. Study outcomes serve as the basis for proposed solutions and, if accepted by the country and eligible for World Bank funding, the solution will be implemented on a country level.

The collaboration will focus on Africa in the initial phase. Africa is the world's fastest growing cellular market, with about 400 million mobile phones in use.2 "With billions of people in the developing world having access to reliable technology, such as mobile communications, there is a tremendous opportunity to use technology to radically improve healthcare delivery," said Mohsen Khalil, director of the World Bank's Global Information and Communication Technologies Department. "Through public-private collaborations, which bring together global expertise, appropriate technologies, efficient processes, and necessary financial resources, the potential of health and technology can be fully realized."

The collaboration will focus on supporting the eTransform Initiative through studies or pilots that improve healthcare infrastructure and sharing global knowledge about technology in developing countries, including the use of mobile applications.

"We understand that to truly make a difference in the lives of low-income people in emerging markets, we first need research-based evidence to identify and better understand the existing capabilities and needs of a country to improve healthcare access for its people," said Ponni Subbiah, vice president, Pfizer Global Access.

1 BMJ 2005; 331:709-10.

2 "Africa: 448 million mobile network subscribers. " Africa News. February 11, 2010.

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