The first of its kind outside Gauteng: A community-owned non-communicable disease screening service in Sweetwaters

Since 2015, Dr Alastair van Heerden from the HSRC's Human and Social Development (HSD) research programme and his colleague Laurie Bruns at the UCLA Center for World Health have worked with MBA teams from UCLA on an initiative to develop a sustainable, non-donor funded and profitable non-communicable disease (NCD) focused risk-screening programme in the community of Sweetwaters.

Over a period of three years, a variety of MBA teams came out to Sweetwaters to explore how to fund the gap between people’s willingness to pay for NCD screening services and their limited financial ability to pay. In order to achieve the aim of a profitable community owned NCD screening service, the teams eventually settled on the idea that a successful public health programme would require selecting an impact-centric business model that: 1) aligned incentives and values between stakeholders; 2) cultivated relationships and support from a range of partners and  3) offered real benefit from both business and community perspectives.

Based on these key criteria, a partnership was created with Unjani Clinics in South Africa. The Unjani business model is to establish a network of shipping container-based primary care clinics in rural and township communities that are nurse-owned and operated, with a fee-for-service business model that is financially sustainable on an operational basis. The fruit of this partnership was recently unveiled in Sweetwaters where the first Unjani clinic, outside of Gauteng, was built and opened to the public. The multiple positive impacts of this outcome include that public clinics will become less congested due to those who can afford to pay for a slightly higher quality of care at an Unjani clinic, that employment opportunities are created for a security guard, front desk receptionist and pharmacy assistant in Sweetwaters and that income is retained in the community through this nurse-owned and operated clinic.

This project shows the clear impact that can be achieved by thinking creatively about problems and including the perspectives of multidisciplinary teams. We wish to acknowledge and thank the contributions of all the UCLA students who worked on this project and Linda Toussaint, Unjani CEO, for turning this dream of a community-owned NCD screening service into reality.

The team. The first of its kind outside Gauteng: A community-owned non-communicable disease screening service in Sweetwaters, and -focused risk-screening programme in the community of Sweetwaters.

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