Are partnerships the key to making critical progress in Global Health?

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Martin Bernhardt

Martin Bernhardt

Martin is in charge of the public affairs strategy for Sanofi’s Global Business Unit “General Medicines & Emerging Markets”. Before joining the pharmaceutical industry, he led research in Health System Science at Geneva University. He is still a lecturer at the Pharmacy School, teaching Health Economics and Politics. Engaged for the global access to quality healthcare, Martin is co-chair of the NCD Alliance Supporters Group and is a member of the Steering Committee of the NCD Access Accelerated Initiative. He is an Economic and Social Scientist by training, with specialisation in Pharmacoeconomics.
Martin Bernhardt

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When it comes to Global Health, there are a number of challenges that the global health community should be aware of and focused on. Many people, especially in low and middle-income countries, don’t have access to the healthcare they require. The rise of anti-microbial resistance (AMR) poses a threat that is hard to comprehend for anyone who grew up in the age of modern medicine. And periodically we face potentially catastrophic epidemics, such as recently Ebola, which may affect millions and have the potential to disrupt our way of life across the world.

In a world like this, it is important to celebrate success stories and learn from them. This goes especially in Global Health, where we can look back at accomplishments which shouldn’t be forgotten or dismissed. Since the eradication of smallpox through vaccinations, we have used this very effective tool to push back diseases such as polio, measles, diphtheria, and rubella. Since penicillin was discovered in 1928, scientists have developed another 19 classes of antibiotics. And between 1990 and 2014, the number of AIDS-related deaths worldwide has been reduced by a stunning 80%.

These impressive results have only been possible through collaborative efforts and the establishment of partnerships between numerous organizations and brilliant minds. And this rings true today: that no one can claim to be able to solve health challenges alone. Each has to bring their own competencies to create a solid basis from which we can try find answers for public health challenges.

The next wave of innovation in Global Health is evolving beyond medicines and technologies, to build robust and equitable healthcare systems for all. Here as well, partnerships in which governments, universities, civil society and businesses, all play a role are essential.

In 2012, pharmaceutical companies, governments, the WHO, the World Bank, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation signed the London Declaration, pledging to eliminate or control ten key neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) including Chagas disease, dengue, and sleeping sickness. These NTDs affect one in seven people in mostly poor countries, inflicting blindness, immobility, disfigurement, and agony to patients, leading to disability and even greater levels of poverty. In 2015, the biopharmaceutical industry invested USD 471 million in over 100 active research and development projects for NTDs. Over 90% of these are collaborations, working together with universities, non- governmental organizations, and public and private sector institutes.

Partnerships are also essential to help us address AMR. Physicians have used antibiotics since the discovery of penicillin to treat previously deadly diseases. However, the rise of AMR is causing an increasing number of deaths every year, potentially up to 10 million deaths a year by 2050 — which is more people than currently die from cancer. Following the launch in 2016 of the Declaration on Combating Antimicrobial Resistance, which was the first call to action for industry and governments to work together on new products to beat the challenges of drug resistance, a new AMR Industry Alliance was launched in May 2017 to drive and measure industry progress to curb antimicrobial resistance. This alliance, consisting of research-based pharmaceutical companies, generics, biotech, and diagnostic companies, was launched during the first-ever G20 Health Ministers’ meeting, highlighting the importance of collaboration between public and private sector.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, and heart disease is another Global Health challenge demanding collaborative solutions. These chronic conditions are killing more than all other diseases combined. The deaths occur in every country, rich and poor, and they are rapidly on the rise, induced by urbanization, changes in diet and lifestyle and of course tobacco consumption. The urgent need to tackle NCDs has prompted 23 CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry to launch the Access Accelerated initiative, to work with the World Bank and other stakeholders to improve access to NCD treatment and care in low- and lower middle- income countries, to build more effective programs in NCD care.

While NTDs, AMR, NCDs and other challenges to Global Health may affect our future, I remain hopeful. More than ever before, governments, industry, civil society, academia, practitioners, and patients are coming together in purposeful and productive collaborations. Joint commitments to eradicate NTDs and breakthrough partnerships to manage AMR demonstrate that collaboration is driving a new and transformative era of sustainable healthcare. We must continue to build trust and partnerships because only together we can increase innovation, develop more effective treatments, and build better systems of care.