May 3, 2022
FIME sat down with Michael O’Neal, executive director of OneWorld Health, to learn more about the realities of global health and how they provide sustainable solutions.
QUESTION: IN YOUR OWN WORDS, TELL ME ABOUT YOUR REASON FOR BEING. WHAT PROBLEM ARE YOU SOLVING IN THE WORLD?
We like to talk about our work as removing barriers to access. In the United States, we’re blessed to have incredible access to healthcare—ranging from primary care to emergency care—often at the tip of our fingers. In emerging countries, that just isn’t the case. At OneWorld Health we believe that where you’re born simply should not determine your ability to access quality, affordable healthcare, as the difference between having access and not having access is often life-saving or life-ending.
In the countries we work in—Uganda, Nicaragua, and Honduras—the top causes of death are very treatable diseases and illnesses such as pneumonia, sickness from unclean water, infections, and accidents that cause trauma like losing or breaking a limb. It’s almost hard for the average American to comprehend just the extent of how different access looks. For example, we treated a young girl named Melissa who was 8 years old at the time. She was playing soccer outside and fell and scraped her arm—nothing major. Her family didn’t have clean water, or Neosporin to treat it and three months later, it became so infected that her arm had to be amputated.
This very experience is our founding call and purpose. Thirteen years ago, a group of us who lived in Charleston, S.C. we’re convicted that there had to be a better, sustainable, and local way to prevent these deaths—that by U.S. standards, are incredibly easy to treat. This conviction led to OneWorld Health establishing our first health clinic in Masindi, Uganda in 2011. Just 13 months after opening our first healthcare center, patient fees exceeded operating costs. Since then, all of our medical centers either have become operationally sustainable, or are on track to do so in 24 months.
And since then, we’ve been relentlessly pursuing our mission.
QUESTION: SO, YOU STARTED WITH A BIG IDEA TO BE A SUSTAINABLE GLOBAL HEALTHCARE COMPANY. 13 YEARS LATER, WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED AND CHANGED.
Since our founding, we’ve treated more than 650,000 patients in three countries with clinical services ranging from primary care to emergency surgery. We’ve maintained 96 percent sustainability across our portfolio for all projects 24 months and older. We’ve helped more than two million people better understand public health information such as washing hands, wearing masks, and social distancing. We’ve treated nearly 75,000 patients through local community outreach—expanding our reach far beyond the limits of our physical medical facilities. We’ve grown our annual revenue from $225,000 to nearly $6 million. And, we’ve raised more than $37 million since 2010 to support our goals.
And, we’ve achieved all this despite the challenging barriers that still stand in the way of the transformational change we seek. Local, private healthcare systems are still too expensive for the majority of the population. Public systems are still overcrowded, underfunded, and lack the basic supplies for consistent care. By and large, local governments continue to make choices about who deserves access to high-quality, affordable, and consistent healthcare— perpetuating the very inequities we exist to address. And, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, global poverty levels are increasing for the first time in 30 years. Recent estimates conclude that poverty could rise to over one billion people globally as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
We entered into this work knowing there are no easy fixes to these urgent and challenging problems. And yet, we also know there are in fact solutions. This is perhaps the biggest lesson we continue learning.
We’ve seen firsthand the power of staying the course and investing in doing this hard work the right, often hard, way. This conviction has guided us for the last 13 years and will guide our work through 2030 and beyond.
QUESTION: WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE? WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE IN THE NEXT 10 YEARS?
In short, our vision for the future looks a lot like our past 13 years—just at a greater pace and scale.
There is increased political and economic instability in the countries we work, an unwavering global pandemic, and increased global poverty. And so, we find ourselves further convicted to make life-saving care a reality for more of our brothers and sisters in need.
It’s in that spirit that we’ve established our vision for 2030—an inspiring plan that accelerates our impact and reach, enabling us to serve half a million patients per year by the end. We’re humbled and inspired that our approach to building healthcare infrastructure continues to stand the test of time, weather storms and challenges, and provide consistent, affordable, and high-quality care to those in need.
If we’re successful, the impact of this strategy will extend well beyond the regions where we work. More than just better health outcomes, we seek a world where the place you’re born does not determine your access to healthcare. We bear an incredible responsibility to alleviate the inequities our brothers and sisters are facing—and dream to build a better system that gives everyone an opportunity to have a healthy, fulfilling life. And, we’re ready to lead the way in making it happen alongside amazing partners like the Florida International Medical Expo and the countless medical professionals who offer service, expertise, and funding so we can continue building local solutions, empowering local communities, and serving local families in Uganda, Nicaragua, and Honduras.
QUESTION: TELL US MORE ABOUT YOUR WORK IN NICARAGUA.
In Nicaragua, 30 percent of the population lives below the national poverty line, making access to affordable healthcare challenging. We began offering care just five years ago at our facility in El Viejo. We now have nine facilities providing care across the region. Nearly 50,000 of our brothers and sisters in Nicaragua trust us to provide care every year. We’re one of the largest pharmacy chains in the country and continue to only hire local staff and procure local supplies. Our purpose has multiplied in Nicaragua quicker than we could have imagined. More than just statistics, these numbers represent communities all across the country having increased access to our network of care. They represent a growing pipeline of local, well-playing employment opportunities for trained medical professionals. And, they represent our vision and purpose being realized.
This past year, we were especially grateful for our large footprint in Nicaragua. As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to plague the world, Nicaraguans were left without much support from their local government, with only one testing site open in the whole country and very limited access to vaccines. Our telehealth services, COVID-19 screener, and pharmacy support were critical lifelines to our brothers and sisters there who were navigating the hard realities of a relentless pandemic.
We’re continually humbled by the ability of our vision and purpose to grow and motivated to continue expanding access to care throughout Nicaragua where the needs are still unmet.
QUESTION: HOW CAN OTHERS GET INVOLVED?
At OneWorld Health, we know and have seen the power of doing this work in partnership with others. And as a result, we’d love for your FIME community to join us in pursuing our mission. We recently released our strategic vision through 2030 and as part of that you can sign up to get connected and start volunteering, fundraising, serving, partnering, and spreading the word today. Our team would love to support you in that!
We’re inspired, overwhelmed, and excited about the impact we can have together to help even more of our brothers and sisters in need and walk alongside this special community here to help make the world a healthier place! Get connected today at vision.oneworldhealth.com. Visit in-person with OneWorld Health at The Florida International Medical Expo -FIME 2022, July 27-29 at Miami Beach Convention Center. FREE to attend, Register here: https://fimeshow.info/3vx6Rat