Advancing Health-Related SDGs In Africa Through Private Sector Collaborations

As the World Health Summit opens Sunday in Berlin, one of the key themes running through the conference will be how industry, government and civil society leaders can collaborate more effectively to build strong health institutions – with a particular focus on building African capacities in a Monday keynote session. This means working across all aspects of health systems to improve health work force capacity, access to health finance and health products, and ultimately better care and treatment for patients, in line with the aims of Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Ahead of this, I want to share with you some of the issues that will be raised in that session, highlighting why now is the time for us to come together to accelerate our actions to build strong health systems in this critical region of the world.

Over the last thirty years, strong economic growth in Africa has helped to reduce the proportion of people living in poverty from 56% in 1990 to 43% in 2012. Yet, as the continent’s population continues to expand — estimated to reach 2.5 billion people by 2050 – investments in robust health systems, to build a foundation of critical infrastructure and healthcare expertise, are key to inclusive and sustainable growth.

In 2001, all African Union countries pledged to allocate at least 15% of their annual budget to improve the health sector as part of The Abuja Declaration. Following this, many African countries have made strides in increasing domestic investments in health, however few countries have achieved this goal. In 2019, the “First Annual Africa Leadership meeting: Investing in Health” took place and reiterated that Member States must increase and reorient health spending to target diseases across the life cycle that have the greatest impact on mortality and human capital development.

These calls to action reflect the growing importance and need to involve cross-sector stakeholders to supplement and reinforce the services of the public sector in health. A report by the World Bank in 2007 found that the private sector delivered about half of Africa’s health products and services, demonstrating the important role cross-sector collaboration played a decade ago and continue to play.

The innovative biopharmaceutical industry brings valuable expertise and solutions to supporting attainment of the health-related SDGs, not only by developing lifesaving therapies but in partnering to innovate and strengthen the delivery of care. Members of IFPMA are currently engaged in 103 global health partnerships in Africa, across 47 different countries.

From these experiences, we have learned that we can achieve even more when we collaborate with diverse partners – not just with traditional development organizations but also with local governments, civil societies and other private sectors. We have had strategic collaborations with partners across Africa, including WHO AFRO and AUDA-NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) to support the expansion of program strategies across the continent, while also collaborating with local partners to build capacity and strengthen regulatory and healthcare systems. IFPMA members recognize the value of their combined efforts when they work together and with other private sector companies and are currently collaborating together on 19 programs in Africa and 37 programs which involve other private sector organizations.

In working with other pharmaceutical companies, biotech, technology and telecom companies, logistics providers, and more, we seek to understand the expertise that each partner brings and how together we can develop holistic solutions to some of the most complex health challenges facing many African countries, including:

  • Maternal and child health: MSD for Mothers is working to improve the quality of maternal health and care services among private providers around the world, a current challenge in many African countries. The program uses research carried out in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine which highlighted a majority of women in rural areas sought care from private providers.
  • Growth of youth populations: DREAMS Innovation Challenge, in collaboration with PEPFAR, brings together thinkers from inside and outside HIV to implement solutions that address the root causes of increasing HIV risk among young girls.
  • Fighting corruption, waste and falsified medicines: We need to fight corruption, tackle waste, inefficiencies, substandard and falsified medicines across Africa. Fight the Fakes is a cross-sector campaign to tackle falsified medicine and involves a variety of stakeholders, including patients, health professionals, and public and private organizations. This complex global health challenge requires strong coordination and a comprehensive approach, including strengthening legislative frameworks, regulatory systems, and raising awareness.
  • Increasing access to care and treatment: Technology transfer programs are one way to help countries to strengthen regulatory systems, streamline supply chains, adopt more efficient procurement systems and ensure regular supplies of treatment. Gilead’s Technology Transfer program works to increase access to HIV treatment by providing generic manufacturers with licenses to produce drugs. In parallel, it is also important to build local capacity to address skills shortages and Boehringer Ingelheim’s training program works to increase healthcare workers’ technical skills while providing technology transfers.
  • Investing in the future health leaders: In collaboration with Chatham House and the Graduate Institute, IFPMA is working to support the development of the next generation of public health leaders in Africa. The fellowship aims to help participants develop the knowledge, insight and skills to become leaders in their countries. The program builds skills in leadership, policy formulation, analysis and implementation, as well as global health diplomacy.

We aspire to be a convener of other private sector expertise towards partnerships for health. As we increase our cross-sector collaboration, we are developing our understanding of the unique, innovative solutions we can develop by leveraging the strengths of specific business sectors, including:

  • Technology companies support to enhance service delivery and strengthen supply chains
    • GSK’s mVacciNation Partnership with Vodafone helps to strengthen supply chains for childhood immunization, and reached 977 children in Mozambique, Tanzania, Nigeria as of January 2019, delivering over 950,00 successful immunizations.
    • The Novartis Better Hearts, Better Cities initiative conducted a digital infrastructure assessment with Intel to understand challenges and opportunities to tackle hypertension via enhanced health literacy, prevention, screening, diagnosis, and patient management.
  • Telecom companies’ expertise to advance patient outreach, awareness and linkage to care
    • SMS for Life is a broad cross-sector partnership bringing together Novartis, Google, Safaricom, Vodafone, and Vodacom Tanzania to share health information with patients.
    • Be He@lthy, Be Mobile is a World Health Organization collaboration, including Novartis, Sanofi, GSK and Verizon, which reaches communities with targeted information to prevent non-communicable disease. Notably, the mDiabetes programme in Senegal has increased diabetes awareness, provided mTraining to healthcare workers and helped patients to manage diseases through remote consultations and support.
  • Medical devices and medical technology companies ensure patients have access to drugs, diagnostics and other infrastructure
    • Roche’s Global Access Program partners with diagnostic manufacturers as part of a holistic effort to expand access to viral load testing for HIV/AIDS.
    • Pfizer’s partnership with BD is bringing together innovative treatments and delivery systems to provide a new way of delivering contraceptive care to remote areas.

As we work towards our aspiration of ‘health for all’ across the globe and in Africa, we recognize collaboration is a foundational building block and benefits patients. By growing our partnerships, we are learning about effective program strategies that go beyond traditional corporate social responsibility and philanthropy approaches and are using these insights to strengthen and develop initiatives that change the way we are working across Africa.

I look forward to hearing panelists’ perspectives at the World Health Summit tomorrow on cross-sector collaborations and hope our discussions will start to ignite new partnerships, ultimately serving as a catalyst to bring together more collaborations over the next 10 years to support of the SDGs.

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Thomas B. Cueni is an economist, journalist and former Swiss diplomat, and today is director-general of the IFPMA, representing the innovative pharma industry and accredited organization in official relations with the United Nations.

 

 

Image Credits: IFPMA.

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