“It takes collaboration across a community to develop better skills for better lives.”― Jose Angel Gurria
This post is a follow-up to Has the Phrase and Idea of “Healthy Inequity” Become Rated R? MA even? where I discussed some ideas around why conversations and partnership development activities falter once topics of health inequity arise. It is important for us to release our grievances about the work that we do, in a cathartic, well-meaning, and solution-driven way. I heard Iyanla Vanzant say once, we should ask ourselves, “what is the truth not being told?” I share my professional experiences as a productive way to add to the public health work of addressing health inequities. It is my hope that any I contribute is received by those doing similar work as reassurance and by others who are interested in advancing health equity as a call to action. I wish to learn from others’ perspectives as well.
The existence of health inequity is something we can as a society of informed decision makers greatly minimize if not eradicate. Public-private partnerships are one powerful way to address entrenched health inequities. They can:
- Extend the reach of messages and programs
- Speed up responses and innovation cycles
- Connect organizations with public health professionals whose interventions align with their social responsibility agenda
- Consider and where appropriate adopt practices from others sectors that further advance our work in public health
- Harness the superpowers of technology to solve problems in an inclusive and culturally humble manner
The emergence of health inequity did not materialize through the fault of any one person, policy, politician, or sector. As with any group or entity, we public health professionals must hone our messaging in stating our exact needs, more strategically select appropriate partners with the right strengths, and grow more comfortable with the discomfort of hearing innumerable no responses to our partnership development asks. With that, our pursuit of public-private partnerships should be founded — in part — on our answers to the following questions:
Which groups, organizations or agencies have missions, goals and objectives compatible with your public health interests?
Consider pursuing relationships with potential partners whose interests, areas of expertise and business practices align with the processes needed to execute your intended interventions — which also should have some degree of flexibility. It is more comfortable to stick to who we know, do what we have always done, consider potential partners with whom we feel comfortable or “know from down the street,” including those who tend to agree with us on every issue or vice versa. While there is a place for such relationships, they many not always be the right choice to achieve our public health goals.
Align outreach efforts to engage businesses whose interests and communal impact can synergistically co-exist with ours. Clearly defining the social and physical determinants of health driving our interventions can provide a clear vision of how our goals align with those of local businesses’ social responsibility agendas. Changing social norms and attitudes within a community is something over which a business can wield significant influence.
For instance, a local independent private sector pharmacist – particularly in a small community – tend to be well trusted among the locals.
They live in the community and may run in circles that can exact immediate or slow yet long-lasting change. A clear majority of a pharmacy’s catchment area may completely overlap with the location of a population group for which a specific intervention is developed. Said local pharmacist may be a great ally in ensuring the ideal execution of your intervention and the chances of encountering Rated R or MA comments and/or body language from other potential partners may be less likely (s)he are leading the conversation(s).
What are the values and cultures of the identified groups, organizations and/or agencies?
Virtually all businesses within the private sector value increasing profit margins, expanding their consumer base, broadening their cultural influence within a specific sector of the economy and ensuring their workforce traverses the diffusion of innovation continuum faster and more productively than their competitors. In all seriousness, this is not inherently bad. Many a great invention has entered the marketplace because of the private sector’s way of doing business.
The public health sector on the other hand adhere to different motivations — the 10 essentials public health services for one — underpinned by doing the most good for the most people. Immediately, that sounds Herculean, expensive and inefficient to the ears of the private sector. The two sectors’ ethos could not be any farther from each other in a practical sense. Reconciling the seemingly opposing motivations appears daunting at first. However, consider a a couple of the 10 essential public health services: (1) monitor health status to identify and solve community health problems; (2) link people to needed personal health services and assure the provision of healthcare when otherwise unavailable.
The private sector may have relatively inexpensive and highly sensitive surveillance tools as well as valuable de-identified consumer metrics that could facilitate rolling out many public health interventions. This support may involve pinpointing one district in a community that is more likely to make certain purchases, better understanding commuting patterns to reach their stores, or other pertinent details that can help with public health information dissemination.
The private sector can work with those in public health to expedite the provision of vaccinations (which many currently do) or execute other public health interventions such as locating clusters of a specific disease within a larger community or providing on-the-spot tobacco cessation services in a region where high tobacco use remains an issue.