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A winnable revolution

Unilab optimistic about prospects of Universal Healthcare Program, invests in SafeBirth network
By: - Reporter / @neltayao
/ 12:30 AM November 10, 2019

For a healthcare company like United Laboratories, Inc. (Unilab), to do well in business means to do good where they operate—which is why they have “social partnerships,” rather than corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.

“When people ask us what our CSR is, we say, we don’t have that department,” says Jose Maria Ochave, senior vice president of Unilab’s business development group. “CSR should be part of your company’s DNA. If you’re a company operating within a developing country, it should be part of your business model—and that has always been the belief of Unilab.”

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One of the company’s social partnerships, which has been running for the past seven years, is SafeBirth—Unilab’s chain of lying-in clinics which offer hygienic, safe, and affordable childbirth delivery services, courtesy of community midwives.

Ochave says SafeBirth, which currently has four branches in Quezon City (Congressional Avenue, Novaliches, Payatas, and Barangay Tatalon), operates as an inclusive business by professionalizing the midwives already operating in the communities where the clinics are located.

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“We wanted a model which would allow us to work with the community. We set up the facility, put all the necessary equipment there—then we got all the midwives who used to deliver at home, had them trained by the Department of Health (we paid for that), and accredited by Philhealth (we loaned them the payment for accreditation so they would have a stake in it),” says Ochave. “And then we gave them the branding—SafeBirth.”

Ochave says Unilab decided to focus on providing such service after seeing the lack of quality lying-in clinics in Quezon City, and also to help government reduce the number of maternal and infant deaths due to home births.

“Also, we wanted facilities that showed respect and dignity for the poor,” Ochave adds.

Since 2012, SafeBirth’s midwives have delivered over 3,000 babies. Over half of their patients are indigents, who are not billed anything, says Ochave; Philhealth members, on the other hand, are able to avail themselves of their benefit.

To ensure the mothers’ safety, all patients are required to complete their prenatal care checkups (at least four visits, as recommended by the DOH). High-risk cases are referred to hospitals.

Each clinic also has an obstetrician-gynecologist, for patients who prefer to be cared for by a doctor instead of a midwife. Post-birth, mothers are taught how to properly breastfeed their children; pediatricians also see to it that newborns receive the necessary screening and vaccinations.

“At first, the midwives were the ones bringing in patients [to the SafeBirth clinics]. Any startup is difficult. But after a year, we were seeing repeat patients; so we were the ones now giving patients to the midwives. Now it has become a real livelihood source for midwives,” Ochave says.

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Admittedly, Ochave says SafeBirth is not yet a profitable business; it’s still being partly subsidized by the parent company, especially since the reimbursable amount from Philhealth per normal birth, including newborn screening and prenatal checkup expenses, is only P10,750.

Expansion would be possible, Ochave says, once that amount hits P15,000. “We’re willing to wait,” he adds.

And with the passing of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law, Ochave says SafeBirth has taught Unilab an invaluable lesson: that the law’s goal, to lower the cost of healthcare through more community-based facilities, is viable.

“That’s the challenge to private sector: How do you offer your products and services within the price range of UHC Law? If you’re really doing good business, that’s something you will pursue,” he says.

Unilab’s experience with SafeBirth has also pushed the company to focus on primary care—another priority of the UHC Law. Come January, the company will be taking on a new social partnership, which involves creating community-based healthcare provider networks that will connect local primary care doctors to hospitals, diagnostic centers, and even drug stores.

“Of course, we will set certain conditions, so that the quality of healthcare can be monitored, and there is continuing education for everyone,” Ochave says. “Like with SafeBirth’s midwives, the primary care doctors won’t be our employees; they will be individual practitioners, and we will help them with branding, the network, and also technology. The objective, really, is to help the doctor do what he has really trained to do, which is to help the sick, without worrying about the business side.”

The vision is to roll out these clinics nationwide, Ochave says. And, guided by the UHC Law, such networks will also enable Unilab to work with healthcare providers who are guided by the same business principle: To do well by doing good.

“The revolution worth fighting for now is the healthcare revolution—because it’s winnable,” Ochave says.

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