The foundation board
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.
A first major challenge: Access to 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.
Expansion of activities
Since then, the project named GlobalDiagnostiX has been carried out in partnership with 12 leading engineering and medical research institutes in Switzerland and Africa, under the lead of the EssentialTech Centre of EPFL. The project was successfully completed in 2018 with the construction of a feasibility prototype and the creation of an EPFL spin-off, Pristem SA, with the mission to industrialize and deploy the device globally.
The EssentialMed Foundation has now widened its spectrum of activities, with two ongoing projects in collaboration with the EPFL EssentialTech Centre: GlobalNeoNat – a solution to address neonatal mortality – and GlobalO2 – aiming at improving access to oxygen therapy.
The Foundation has also launched the Tanzanian-Swiss Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative in order to reinforce the collaborations between Tanzanian and Swiss partners in the area of child and adolescent health, through the implementation of R&D and entrepreneurship projects.
Some facts about medical devices :
1. Less than 14% of the world population (USA, EU, Japan) consumes 80% of the global medical device market, i.e. 80% of about $200 billions [1,2]
2. “From the simplest of health care systems to the most advanced, in rich and poor countries alike, they [health technologies] form the backbone of health services” 
3. “…over 50% of the medical equipment in developing countries is not functioning, not used correctly or not maintained” 
4. “A new philosophy of product development and innovation that reflects the reality of bottom of the pyramid markets will be needed.” 
“Quantum jumps in price performance are required to cater to bottom of the pyramid markets.” 
“Marginal changes to products developed for rich countries in the United states, Europe or Japan will not do.” 
 “The Business of Healthcare Innovation”. Cambridge Univ. Press. 2005, p283.
 EurActiv.com, 2006, http://www.euractiv.com/en/health/medical-devices/article-117519
 WHO: “towards a WHO model of essential medical devices”2003
 C.K. Pralahad, “The fortune and the bottom of the pyramid”,
Wharton School publishing, 2005