The Triad of Health Equity: How Brands Can Drive Health Equity in Asia

Credit: Ketut Subiyanto via Pexels

At 11 PM on a Friday night last year, I received an urgent call from my mum. With no attempt to hide the panic in her tone, she said that my Dad’s stomach was hemorrhaging.

My dad was a cancer patient who had been undergoing chemotherapy for a few months, so this news meant we had to act quickly. Within an hour, I managed to get him into an emergency room. My dad, thankfully, received care just in time.

We were lucky, but that didn’t stop me from wondering… “What if?”


What if …I didn’t have the medical knowledge to know how serious it was, and didn’t act in time?

What if …We didn’t live close enough to the hospital and there was no transportation in place?

What if …We didn’t have enough money for the ER admission?

It was only until recently that I came across the concept of ‘health equity.’ By definition, ‘health equity’’ is the idea that everyone should have a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible rather than being “disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.”


In their academic paper “Defining equity in health”, Braveman & Gruskin argued that health equity is an ethical principle inherently linked to human rights. Inequities in health put already socially disadvantaged groups (by virtue of being poor, living in a remote geographical area, or sometimes, being part of the minority groups) in a more vulnerable position when it comes to getting access to healthcare.

The importance of health equity for individuals and societies has become more apparent during the pandemic. While health literacy varies across countries, consumer segments, socio-economic classes, the coronavirus itself doesn’t discriminate and in turn, affects us all. That inevitably leads to certain groups being disadvantaged and more vulnerable when it comes to their own protection and timely access to treatments.

A gap for brands to bridge

For brands in Asia this presents a huge opportunity to bridge this ever-widening gap, by making a positive difference to the communities they serve. This is part of our connected brands mantra, which aims to encourage brands to connect with consumers and society on a deeper, more authentic level, in ways that bring positive impact, while also serving to foster more fruitful lifelong brand-consumer relationships.

And what better way than by helping consumers to live longer, better, healthier lives?

To do this, we created the “Triad of Health Equity” model, to help brands consider 3 key areas where their contributions could make a real difference to health equity within a chosen market.

So how can brands help to drive health equity?

1. Health literacy plays a central role in the health equity equation.

Referring to a person’s ability to understand important health and medical information, a person with higher health literacy can more easily understand their options for medical treatment, as well as the consequences of their choices.

People with lower health literacy levels have a harder time understanding their diagnoses and treatment plans, as well as communicating their needs and preferences to their healthcare providers. An individual will benefit best from having literacy-enhancing tools that help them search, learn and ask questions to understand more about their condition – such as a chatbot, an app providing educational contents, or a verified community where they can meet and talk with other patients, doctors and HCPs.

By improving health literacy for individuals, brands can forge more fruitful long-lasting relationships with consumers, by demonstrating real purpose. For instance, by:

  • Providing self-education tools: Combating stigma in mental health issues in Asia, mental health app Intellect was developed with self-guided programs based on cognitive behavioral therapy techniques that center on issues like anxiety, self-esteem or relationship issues. The app aims to provide self-education for users to discover their personality, try guided journaling, attend rescue sessions or even start personalised learning paths to achieve set mental health goals.
  • Creating space of trust & safety: A private trusted messenger group was created by the female-health clinic / NGO – Marie Stopes – for Cambodian women who seek advice on sexual health which is still a taboo topic in the country.

2. Access to treatment.

Just as important as the ‘right to know,’ is the ability to access treatment. Timely access is crucial in aiding a person’s chance of recovery. Equipped with access, patients and caregivers can feel more confident, in control, and better enabled to deal with whatever ordeals might arise on the road to recovery.

It’s important that brands are present along the customer experience journey and able to offer access to treatment in the right place and at the right time. With the support of technology and data, this is possible. For instance, by:

Offering a comprehensive personal healthcare ecosystem

During the pandemic, many countries have witnessed their health systems being stretched thin and overloaded. However, China managed to circumvent that through their Ping An Health, a healthcare ecosystem that integrates all stakeholders — government, patients, providers, medical professionals and payers, and provide tailored solutions for all segments. At ground zero in Wuhan, an AI-driven CT scanning tool developed by Ping An Smart Healthcare performed Covid-19 diagnosis in 15 seconds with more than 90 per-cent accuracy.

Through the Ping An Good Doctor app, patients can see a doctor online within minutes rather than waiting in line at a hospital for hours. The app then expanded into e-commerce transactions, providing consumer health products, supplements and health checkup kits. With 373 million registered users, it’s the most widely used mobile medical platform, covering the whole process from the initial medical consultation to the final delivery of prescription orders.

3. On-going care

The third area that brands should be thinking about is how to provide on-going care in the form of subscription models delivered at regular intervals to patients. Vitamin & supplement subscription brands such as Vitamin Shoppe (US-based), Vitable (Sydney-based), Popstore (Singapore-based) see Asia as the huge potential market for on-going care as there is a high demand for regular use of supplements especially amongst the aging population, despite an apparent lack of authentic supplements in the market.

Healthcare is a lifetime issue, not a one-off. Brands should be creative and innovative when devising strategies for on-going care, for instance by:

Building convenient on-going subscription models

Men’s digital healthcare brand Numan, is a digital platform that provides on-going healthcare to men, providing hassle-free private and discreet consultations the brand also reaps rewards in terms of data and revenue via its subscription model for a variety of men’s healthcare products, building customer lifetime value – the revenue a company can get from a single customer throughout the whole relationship.

It sounds transactional, but in fact, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties – the customer gets hassle-free regular deliveries of the products they need, and in return, the brand benefits from building brand loyalty and a continuous revenue growth.

As societies across Asia strive to improve the lives of millions of citizens, fair and equal opportunities for health and wellbeing have never been more important. For brands, this represents an exciting opportunity to be part of the solution by carving out their own place in the health equity ecosystem, bringing real value to consumers through positive impact.

It’s the brands who are able to capitalise on these opportunities, who will reap the biggest rewards, forging meaningful long lasting connections with consumers that stand the test of time.

Quynh Nguyen & Brian Owens

Quynh Nguyen & Brian Owens

Quynh Nguyen is the Strategy Lead at VMLY&R Vietnam and Brian Owens is Senior Vice President, VMLY&R Commerce North America

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