Consider two statistics about Indonesia: Economists forecast the country will become the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2050. We also have the world’s highest burden of tuberculosis after India, claiming the lives of 150,000 to 200,000 people every year.
These figures illustrate the extreme inequalities dogging the world’s fourth-most populous nation, despite impressive economic growth in the last decade and cutting poverty by half.
In Jakarta and other main cities, a burgeoning middle class is drawing local and international investors, from vehicle companies to financial services to digital technology to retail and fast food chains. Yet tuberculosis still affects far too many people, particularly poor people suffering from malnutrition, while malaria remains a major problem in the remote, heavily forested province of Papua in eastern Indonesia.
To achieve its full potential, Indonesia needs to tackle inequality by investing more in its people. According to the World Bank, growth has primarily benefited the richest 20% and left the remaining 80% of the population–about 205 million people–behind.
As the Bank’s Human Capital Project points out, education and health are two of the best ways to support prosperity and prepare countries for the economy of the future. With education you can change the fate of a country, but better health is central to human well-being. Healthy people live longer lives, are more productive and save more.
I was born into a working-class family at a time (the 1950s) when most families in Indonesia had no access to healthcare. Thousands of children died each year from preventable diseases such as measles, polio and malaria. My father had a business making pedicabs, while my mother ran a fabric shop in the city. When I became an entrepreneur, I felt compelled to give back to Indonesia. Philanthropy is not about making a donation. It is a commitment related to continuity and sustainability, and requires a well-planned system to have impact.
Since 2015, the Tahir Foundation has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which have played a key role in reversing the course of these epidemics around the word. In Indonesia, the partnership’s efforts are paying off: TB mortality rates have fallen by 44% and TB incidence was down by 14% from 2000 to 2017, thanks to improved case finding and better diagnostics. In 2017, more than half of Indonesia’s districts were officially declared malaria free–a major feat for a diverse archipelago of more than 17,000 islands and more than 300 ethnic groups.
Still, more robust investments are needed. Tuberculosis places a huge social and financial burden on the people who have the disease, as well as on their families and communities. Most of the infections occur in people at their most productive age, draining billions of dollars in loss of productivity due to premature death and medical costs.
I hold the conviction that the private sector and business leaders have an important role to play in public health and development in emerging economies in Southeast Asia, many of which share similar challenges and opportunities. The private sector can bring not only funding, but technical expertise, creativity, and innovation, and are often well positioned to drive policy change.
The government of my country has done a lot for public health, including rolling out a universal health insurance scheme that is designed to provide a wide range of services from maternal care to heart surgery for its entire population by the end of 2019. But the private sector can fill the gaps to complement public resources by expanding access so that all Indonesians benefit from better health.
In 2014, a coalition of Indonesian business leaders, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, came together to create the Indonesia Health Fund, a significant step toward making Indonesia self-reliant in health funding and a model for philanthropic collaboration in the region. Over the past four years, the fund has contributed to family planning programs, TB research and advocacy programs, as well as TB screenings
It shows what can happen when public and private sectors come together with a common aim. It is more important than ever with the Global Fund now calling on the world to step up the fight against HIV, TB and malaria in the face of new threats from all three diseases. Raising their target of at least $14 billion will help save 16 million lives over the next three years, avert 234 million new cases and infections, and help us get back on track to end these diseases. The fund is calling on the private sector to contribute at least $1 billion of this total. So let us all do our share.
Disclosure: Dr. Tahir is the owner of the license to publish Forbes Indonesia magazine.