A winding road through the mountains of western Uganda opens up to a rolling emerald carpet of tea leaves as far as the eye can see. The lush fields of the McLeod Russel tea company, located on huge estates spread across six districts, have long been an economic mainstay in the region, providing income for more than 6,000 permanent and seasonal employees from the surrounding villages and towns.
But the company—the largest tea producer in the world—offers its workers more than steady wages. For decades, employees have received generous health benefits, including free health care, maternity facilities, and screening for common diseases. Health care has traditionally been a feature of the tea industry in Uganda, and in recent years, some estates have extended health benefits to workers’ families and to members of local communities.
The contribution that McLeod Russel and other companies and organizations make to national health care is significant but not unusual. In Uganda, as in many resource-limited settings, the private sector1 plays a significant role in providing health services. Up to 60 percent of Ugandans seek health care from the private sector (International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group 2007), and spending within the private health sector accounts for more than 70 percent of total expenditures on health (World Health Organization 2009).