Toespraak minister Kaag bij benoeming Onno Schellekens tot Ridder


Minister Kaag (Buitenlandse Handel en Ontwikkelingssamenwerking) benoemde vanochtend Onno Schellekens tot Ridder in de Orde van de Nederlandse Leeuw op 9 mei 2019. Daarbij gaf zij deze toespraak (in het Engels).

Verantwoordelijke Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken
  • Ontwikkelingssamenwerking
  • Zorg en gezondheid
Documentsoort Toespraak
Publicatiedatum 09-05-2019
Documentdatum 09-05-2019
Onderwerp Kwaliteit van de zorg

Unorthodox. That’s how you could describe Onno Schellekens’ approach.

In the early 2000s, Onno was 1 of the first to realize that if we wanted to provide the entire population with decent healthcare, the private sector was indispensable. The usual donor assistance to the public sector simply would not be able to solve the problem

At the time, this view wasn’t obvious at all. The problem was obvious, though: access to healthcare was limited, especially in rural Africa.

The goal was clear: to improve the quality and availability of healthcare. By connecting supply and demand and lowering transaction costs. Supporting private clinics and mobilizing investment would bring real benefits. What’s more, Dutch companies were willing to help. Unilever, Shell, Achmea, Heineken, SNS and Aegon all came on board. So did my own ministry and my distant predecessor Agnes van Ardenne in 2006.

Looking back, it seems so simple and logical today. But I can tell you this: without Onno’s persuasion and determination, this approach would not be the one commonly used today at the World Bank and USAID.  As we can read in a letter of recommendation from Mr Khama Rogo:

 ‘[the] importance of engagement of the private healthcare sector had been widely ignored, even though it serves more than 50 per cent of the African people, including the poor.’

So we can speak of a real innovation, with incredible tangible results we can be proud of.

Let me mention 3 examples.

Nigeria. Across Kwara State, healthcare has dramatically improved. It has now has its own Community Health Insurance Plan.

Kenya is also achieving promising results with Safaricom and the innovative mobile health wallet.

A third example is the launch of CarePay, an enterprise that enables transfers between patients, healthcare providers and insurers using simple mobile phones. The result? Much lower transaction costs, and better insight into the cost structure.

These are just 3 examples of innovations resulting from government – private sector cooperation in the medical field. 3 examples of the kind of change Onno worked for.


At an early stage you started working with Joep Lange, the founder of PharmAccess. Together you introduced HIV medication and implemented special programmes. This achievement is now known all over the world. You were the organisation’s General Director for 15 years. We all know that Professor Lange was taken from us far too soon in the MH17 air disaster. You can be proud of the way you’ve preserved and built on his legacy.

You were a pioneer in medical accounting, in getting capital to the poorest, and in improving the quality of healthcare, using mobile technology. The organisation’s capital grew from a modest 1 million dollars in 2003 to 130 million just a few years later. A staggering increase that a development minister can only dream of.


Friends, colleagues and associates describe you as intelligent, innovative, inspiring and energetic. As well as engaged, modest and ‘deeply committed to serving those who are voiceless’. A ‘remarkably creative thinker and a man who knows how to convert big ideas into saving lives’. Always 10 steps ahead of the rest. Driven and determined. Committed to contributing.

Thanks in large part to you, private sector engagement – including in healthcare funding – is no longer the exception. It is now the rule.  Thanks in large part to you, millions of people have gained access to healthcare.  Thanks in part to you, the quality of healthcare has been improved, especially for the poorest.

I see you look a bit surprised, Onno. But we are not. Many people supported the request for a royal decoration, all in very positive terms and with warm words. It’s only logical that the request was honoured.

I am therefore delighted and privileged to inform you that it has pleased His Majesty the King to appoint you Knight in the Order of the Lion of the Netherlands. I shall now present you with the insignia of the Order.