Achieving UHC: Don’t Forget the Private Sector

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The goal of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is to: ‘ensure that all people obtain the health services they need without suffering financial hardship when paying for them.’ While almost all countries in the world aspire to reach this goal, the journey will be long and complex and will require governments to make creative use of all the resources and expertise available from local stakeholders and international supporters.  For too long, the role of the private sector in health has been overlooked, although in many countries the role of private providers, insurers and other companies in the health sector complement and reinforce the services delivered by the public sector. We have seen more initiatives to include the private sector in health discussions in recent years, but the private sector voice is often still perceived as secondary, rather than critically important in helping countries to achieve UHC.

A dialogue organized today by Rabin Martin, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health and the Study of Business Enterprise, and the Global Health Programme of the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, on the occasion of the 68th World Health Assembly addressed this very issue. Advancing Universal Health Coverage as a Cornerstone of the SDGs: What is the Role for the Private Sector? outlined how the private sector is already helping countries to move forward along the UHC journey and pointed to important lessons learned on how to expand opportunities for future partnerships to accelerate progress.

The Honorable Dorcas Makgato, Minister of Health of Botswana clearly stated that partnerships between government and the private sector are thoroughly needed if countries are serious about their intentions to scale up UHC quickly. She said, While the role of governments is fundamental and pivotal in the attainment of Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals, the role of the private sector will always be indispensable”.

Dr. Stefan Oschmann, Vice Chairman and Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany and President of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, noted that while countries’ commitments to the MGDs have led to progress on critical global health challenges, the MDGs highlighted a number of shortcomings such as persistent inequalities in health outcomes and access, and not accounting for the NCDs or NTDs burden. Oschmann further mentioned that UHC  – addressing unfair and avoidable inequalities in health outcomes and access to health – was central to ensuring that the SDGs address the MDGs’ shortcomings, and that UHC could only be reached by leveraging the strengths of both the public and private sectors and working in synergy. He pointed to various disruptive innovations happening in the health sector in low- and middle-income countries and emphasized the need to know more about what the private sector was doing for UHC and making that knowledge readily available to key stakeholders.

The panel discussion included Gisela Abbam, Global Executive Director, Healthcare Government Affairs & Policy at General Electric; Dr. David Evans, Scientific Project Leader, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute; and Robin Gorna, Executive Director, Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health.  The panelists emphasized the power of partnerships and private sector innovations as contributors to solutions to some major global health challenges, such as those encountered in maternal, newborn & child health.  Discussion further highlighted the need for a creative mix of public and private funding models, especially given the financial and resource constraints faced by all countries.  Evidence was presented that when governments partner with the private sector – corporations in particular – UHC becomes more affordable, and health outcomes are improved. A general consensus emerged that strengthening health service delivery, through both public and private interventions, is a key to attaining UHC goals.

Member States are poised to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September, with UHC as one of the targets under Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages.  It is important to acknowledge and leverage fully the potential of the private sector to support UHC. Now is the time for everyone to rally around this goal and to advocate for and incentivize further private sector involvement in global health so that countries can reach the goal of providing better health for all.

Universal Health Coverage: Annotated Bibliography 2.0 is the most recent publication from Rabin Martin, the Global Health Programme of the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and the Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health and the Study of Business Enterprise. Download the report here.  

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