Photo: HealthPoint Services

A WaterFirst Health Model – Delivering Healthcare in Emerging Markets

By Kristie Wang, Ashoka Changemakers

A WaterFirst Health Model – Delivering Healthcare in Emerging Markets

HealthPoint Services’ “WaterFirst” sells inexpensive, clean water to prevent water-borne illnesses in remote communities in India. But villagers who visit HealthPoint units to buy water get a lot more: they can also purchase health commodities like sanitary pads, condoms, and nutritional supplements for pregnant women.

Villagers can also access health services like vaccinations and diagnostic exams for diabetes and hypertension through mobile doctors who periodically set up “health camps” at each water unit. HealthPoint has successfully reached more rural households than ever before by leveraging community trust and the foot traffic generated by water sales to deliver additional health services—300 households per day typically visit each unit to collect water.

Many communities lack adequate water sanitation facilities and thus face high risks of waterborne disease—especially infants, who are particularly vulnerable when it comes to pesticide residue and overexposure to fluoride. In addition, traveling to the nearest clinic requires a long and expensive trip to the city for many rural households in India, something most low-income families simply can’t afford.

Water as a Leading Edge to Delivering Community Healthcare

HealthPoint Services’ WaterFirst health model is unique, because it uses clean water sales as part of an integrated approach to community healthcare—no other community water providers or rural clinics provide clean water as a core deliverable and offer health services. The company can make use of limited resources to bring accessible healthcare to communities in emerging markets by leveraging the infrastructure of each water treatment unit.

HealthPoint Services’ core customer base is the emerging middle class in India’s rural villages and small towns, and the company prices services accordingly. “Because our facilities and our technology are urban quality, they also appeal to the aspirations and pride of the community to have modern services,” according to HealthPoint Services.

“So the value proposition is modern quality services at an affordable price—from a trusted brand, and with the convenience of local access.”

Innovative Health Model Generates Financial Sustainability and Social Impact

A key part of the success of the WaterFirst model is its unique, sustainable business model. While a month’s supply of water costs only $1.60 per household, water and health commodity sales serve as an effective form of income generation and financial sustainability—the company depends entirely upon direct consumer sales for revenue.

“The water units become cash flow positive within 6 months of operation, and we are building about 20 additional units a month,” according to HealthPoint Services.

HealthPoint Services currently operates 140 water units that provide safe drinking water to more than 220,000 people. Access to clean water means that families save an estimated $50 per year by avoiding the cost of purchasing medicines to treat diarrhea. And they remain productive, saving days of work or school that would be otherwise lost to illness.

“We also have provided more than 25,000 doctor consultations (mostly primary care), 20,000 diagnostic tests, and filled over 30,000 prescriptions, as well as providing vaccinations and other services,” according to HealthPoint Services.

Scaling Up and Replicating a WaterFirst Health Model

The company has secured funding to add 600 more water units that will serve a catchment area of 3 million people. With unprecedented community uptake and reach, HealthPoint Services has the potential to transform health systems in rural India.

This will be the subject of a study of the company’s impact. HealthPoint Services is partnering with the Center for Evaluation of Social Action at the University of California at Berkeley, which is documenting the social and economic impact of the water units through a multi-year, randomized study funded by USAID.

HealthPoint Services has its sights set on other emerging markets as well. In three years, the company expects to have begun piloting the WaterFirst health model in at least two other countries, most likely in Nigeria and the Philippines.

Editor’s Note:

This story is part of a series about innovative business models that are solving the systemic health problems of different markets around the world. This initiative was selected as a finalist in the Transforming Health Systems: Gamechanging Business Models competition, launched by Ashoka Changemakers and Boehringer Ingelheim. Visit the competition page to vote for your favorite finalist before June 18.

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