Solutions for non-communicable diseases in Kenya – German companies can help achieve the SDGs with new business models

At the end of February around 50 company representatives and experts from Germany and Kenya met in Darmstadt to develop ideas on tackling diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and other illnesses. This 'lab of tomorrow', which for the second time was held jointly with the Merck pharmaceutical company at their innovation centre, generated seven new business models.

This is now the fifth lab of tomorrow overall that GIZ has conducted on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Participants from around the world spent three days developing business ideas to prevent and control non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Kenya. The current challenge, introduced by Dr Heide Richter-Airijoki, GIZ team leader in the project 'Development of the health sector', is a burning issue in Kenya's health sector. According to the World Health Organization, NCDs are responsible for 27 per cent of all fatalities and 50 per cent of all hospital admissions in the country. Yet Kenya is not the only country affected by this problem. The United Nations have recognised the severe social and economic impacts of the global increase in NCDs, and have mainstreamed efforts to control and prevent them in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the targets of SDG 3, for instance, involves reducing by one third premature mortality from NCDs by 2030. Preventive measures will play a crucial role in achieving this target, as the emergence of NCDs is largely due to behavioural factors. In other words, the number of new infections can be controlled by changing attitudes and behaviours. 

Discussion during the 5. lab of tomorrow
© GIZ/Klaus Wohlmann

Accumulated knowledge of diverse experts

In seven interdisciplinary working groups, lab participants pooled their expertise and resources and – using the design thinking method – developed solutions that are at the same time business ideas. In addition to the Merck company, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bayer, SAP and Cerner also attended, along with start-ups and small and medium-sized companies. African business also took part, alongside selected experts on Kenya from foundations, UN organisations, government institutions, NGOs and GIZ. This enabled an intensive transfer of knowledge between the private, social and public sectors.

'I'm particularly excited by the idea of using innovative ideas to improve the supply of medicines, by which I mean linking new technologies with the administration of medicinal drugs', says Stefanie Pügge of the German aid organisation ‘Apothecaries without Borders’. Although the workshop was very challenging, she said, she did learn a great deal about sometimes ‘thinking outside the box’. Karina Fassbender, Head of Accelerator Africa at Merck, also had good things to say about the second lab of tomorrow held in Darmstadt. ‘The three days were a complete success in terms of enabling international actors to work together in innovative ways. We are delighted we could stage the lab.’

Presentation during the 5. lab of tomorrow
© GIZ/Klaus Wohlmann

One lab – 50 participants – 7 business ideas

One of the business ideas involves a national health database containing facts and figures on NCDs. By applying an algorithm, an app will use these data to recognise symptoms and propose treatments.

Another group set out to provide young Kenyans with information on a healthy lifestyle in a playful kind of way. Their app includes a health quiz that is linked to a social campaign. Users play against each other in a tournament, in which they are required both to answer questions based on factual knowledge, and take part in sporting activities. As the current knowledge of individual users is regularly collected, valuable data for targeted awareness-raising and prevention of NCDs will automatically be generated.

A third team intends to organise cooperation between insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals. In the course of this cooperation between the public and private sectors, the group plan to streamline the path taken by medicines from production, through transport and on to distribution. The aim is to lower prices sustainably and, according to Viktoria Rabovskaja, ‘make the treatment of NCDs accessible and affordable for a broad section of the population’.

In April 2017, selected entrepreneurs wishing to take their business models further will travel to Kenya in order to optimise their ideas in cooperation with GIZ in the country setting. Once again, the 5th lab of tomorrow has smoothed the path to economic and development cooperation. This is also how Christian Hagemann, responsible officer at BMZ, sees it: ‘With the lab of tomorrow we offer businesses an innovative platform. This is where they can develop sustainable business models as solutions to development challenges.’