Thursday, February 25, 2021Canada's Leading Online Business Magazine

Health Partners International

Increasing access and improving health in the developing world

Every year, hundreds of thousands of lives are saved, and pain and suffering is eased from preventable and treatable diseases through the work of Health Partners International of Canada (HPIC). The not-for-profit relief and development organization, which marked its 20th anniversary last year, works to increase access to medicine and improve health in the developing world, particularly for women and children.

HPIC’s strength stems from a diverse and continuously growing list of partners: ministries of health, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and healthcare professionals, as well as pharmaceutical and healthcare product companies, and Canadian government departments. The organization also relies on the financial support of individual donors, foundations, and corporations. Through a unique model, HPIC is able to multiply every donated dollar to provide at least $10 of free medical aid.

“We were primarily a relief organization responding to emergencies and providing health care professionals with medicine for their medical missions overseas,” says HPIC President and CEO, Glen Shepherd. “There has been a significant evolution over the past two years to more long-term sustainable development, which improves health systems by working with governments, Ministries of Public Health and NGOs.”

Talking with Shepherd illustrates how HPIC’s work requires great flexibility and fluidity for the developing world’s evolving needs, and the level of organization required on both the micro and macro levels.

Building capacity in the developing world

“Greater and more equitable access to priority medicines and medical supplies for Afghans, especially women and children,” is how HPIC describes the goal of its Capacity Building and Access to Medicines project in Afghanistan. HPIC opened its first field office in Kabul in 2010, and is fully staffed by Afghan professionals who manage the project in country. The multi-year development project is in partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) and funded by the Canadian International Development Agency.

The project is divided into five components, one being the provision of medicines, with a goal of sending $25 million worth of medicine over the duration of the project.

The second component involves working with the MoPH to develop a central donations office, so that national co-ordination of pharmaceutical donations coming from outside the country is improved.

The third element of the project is to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the national drug quality control procedures and systems of the MoPH. “What that really means is helping the Ministry of Public Health ensure the medicine coming into Afghanistan, and available there, meet proper quality standards,” says Shepherd. “We estimated that 80 per cent of the medicine in the country at one point was not up to normal World Health Organization standards. The MoPH did not have the capacity to monitor and control this, and that is one of the targets of the project.”

HPIC is also helping the MoPH improve its inventory control, or, supply chain management, to ensure the medicine ends up being used to benefit the people it was intended for.

Shepherd is very pleased with what HPIC has achieved with its work in Afghanistan so far. “Long-term sustainable development helps countries like Afghanistan to develop better health systems, so that they become less and less dependent on the outside world.”

Work in Zimbabwe

HPIC has designated Zimbabwe as a country of concentration for its development work. Several root issues in the Zimbabwe health system have been identified, which together result in inadequate access to quality health care.

HPIC has worked with Howard Hospital in Zimbabwe for more than a decade, providing $12 million worth of donated medicines and supplies from Canadian pharmaceutical and health care companies. The hospital is one of the few in the country that actually functions.

“In addition to sending medicines, we are working with Howard Hospital to improve and enhance their inventory management and supply chain system. In fact, one of our staff members is in Zimbabwe as we speak,” says Shepherd. “This will be the third visit to the country in connection with the long-term project, the goal of which is to ensure that Howard can use medicines in the most effective way and be able to track their use. This will enable staff to forecast needs to ensure that there is always a supply of key medicines available.”

Responding to needs effectively

Shepherd goes on to say, “In our discussions with MoPH in a number of developing countries and NGOs we work with, we have come to the conclusion that inventory management and the security of inventory ensures that medicines are used before their expiry dates and reach the people they were intended to reach.”

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, HPIC meets NGOs, and Ministries of Health who reiterate that these are key issues and must be identified as issues of primary concern, according to Shepherd. “We can help countries develop better management, better systems and higher utilization of the resources that they have. Unfortunately they don’t have it as good as we do in this part of the word in terms of health care.”

Of all the millennium development goals set in 2000 by the United Nations, the greatest priority is women and children’s health. Not having access to basic health care translates into hundreds of thousands of women dying each year in developing countries during pregnancy or childbirth. If they survive, their babies are at an even greater risk during the first five years of life.

HPIC is working toward developing a specifically designed kit to promote the health of women and children, and to provide health solutions at a community level in the developing world. The first phase of this project would launch in Zimbabwe with the potential to move out across other countries in the developing world.

As both a relief and development organization, HPIC will continue to provide crucial short-term relief, as well as provide long-term solutions to ensure improved access to health care for people in various developing countries. “The ultimate goal is to be more responsive to the people we serve and to maximize our impact,” says Shepherd. 

To learn more about HPIC’s work around the world, visit