History of the foundation

A striking inequality

Almost a decade ago, Klaus Schönenberger was working in the medical devices industry when he came across an annual report of his company and was struck by the disparity in sales in rich countries versus the rest of the world. A quick desk research showed that 14% of the world population (USA, Japan and Europe) consume over 80% of the entire medical devices market. These figures were all the more shocking as the burden of disease is overwhelmingly tilted towards the rest of the world population living in developing countries.

A social business strategy

After some time spent digging into the causes of this global imbalance, Klaus started to think about a solution to address this problem. One of the leading causes why medical devices are failing in developing countries is the fact that technology -designed for rich countries- is simply neither adapted nor affordable in those regions. For medical devices to take hold, technology needs to be redeveloped based on knowledge of local conditions and resources. Klaus discussed the matter with Bertrand Klaiber who was active in marketing and business development in an electronics company. Together, they developed a strategy to address this challenge by harnessing the best of technology development and industrial competence. They also imagined the concept of an organization, run like a standard high-tech medical company, where the mission would be to provide access to appropriate medical devices in poor communities across the globe. All revenues from sales would be reinvested in the pursuit of the mission and, in order to maximize affordability, the organization would be strictly non-profit. The goal was to create a sustainable and long-lasting impact on global health.

Public Health and Tropical Medicine expertise chimes-in

In summer of 2009, Klaus decided to devote 100% of his time to this concept and has done so without any financial support since then. Bertrand kept-on exploring ideas on the way to build and manage the value chain, while Klaus set-out to meet with a wide spectrum of experts and leaders from the public and private sectors. That is when the team met Beat Stoll, a medical doctor teaching Public Health and Tropical Medicine at the University of Geneva. Beat was immediately enthused by the idea as he had had first-hand experience with the problem of lacking the appropriate technical equipment in developing countries. Indeed, Beat has lived and practiced medicine as a Joint Chief Medical Officer in Cameroon for 3 years. Beat asked Klaus if he wanted to join him on a trip to Cameroon to explore the situation on the ground. This trip took place in October 2009 and the team was able to consolidate all the main concepts and strategies through many discussions with leading health staff and representatives of the Ministry of Health. Right after that important trip, Beat decided to join the team and provided decisive input regarding the use and place of medical devices in developing countries’ health systems. Through his detailed knowledge of local health systems, he was able to help the team focus its efforts on the district hospitals (first level of referral), where the need for technology is the most blatant.

The team Focuses on Diagnostic Imaging

Based on a careful evaluation of medical devices in primary healthcare, the team was able to define a list of 10 medical devices which are essential in all district hospitals and which are either generally missing or failing to deliver the intended medical function. Diagnostic imaging was clearly sticking-out as the most urgent unmet need and this is why the team has decided to focus on this modality. The team spent the next 6 months analysing the technology, the business model and the healthcare environment until reaching a point where it was able to draft a detailed project proposal. This proposal was submitted to all key stakeholders from academia and industry and was met with unanimous interest.

Support from leading personalities:

The team has presented the whole concept to a number of important personalities who provided active support to the project and agreed to join the Board of the EssentialMed Foundation.
- Dr. Guy Morin, President of the Basel State Council, Switzerland
- Professor Marcel Tanner, Director of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health, Basel
- Dr. Gérard Escher, Senior Advisor to the President of EPFL
- Pr. René Salathé, Professor at EPFL
- Mr. Stephan Velan, CEO and member of the board of several Swiss companies