In December, PATH hosted a Transformative Innovations event in Palo Alto, with a panel discussion on ways that public and private sectors can work together to save lives. In three installments, we’ll bring you excerpts of the discussion from our panelists Ponni Subbiah and Anurag Mairal, program leaders of PATH’s Drug Development and Technology Solutions programs, respectively, and Joel Segrè, an independent strategy consultant focused on product development and distribution challenges in global health. In our second post, Joel discusses the market segments most likely to benefit from new global health technologies.
Q: Who should be our first target users for global health innovations? There seems to be a tension between targeting the “poorest of the poor” and other market segments.
JS: Many global health organizations strive to target the “poorest of the poor” with various health services and technological innovations. If we are truly working to improve the lives of the maximum number of people, this “poorest of the poor” approach may be a mistake for two reasons.
The first has to do with cost-effectiveness. For most health innovations, it will almost always be more cost-effective to address the needs of urban poor, or those who live within a reasonable walking distance of care–and these people have real needs that we can address immediately.
The second reason to question the “poorest of the poor” approach has to do with diffusion of innovation. Technological innovations that really take off almost never start by serving the most downtrodden users. Instead, innovation and uptake often begins with users who are easier to reach, and present a market opportunity. Then, over years, the innovation finds its way to all economic strata.
Often private sector providers find a profitable way to extend reach beyond what anyone thought possible. Mobile phones are the classic example. Let us innovate with a long term view to serving all people, but a short term view to addressing the needs that can be met most cost-effectively.