Last week we had the pleasure of hosting a diverse group of panelists for a discussion around the importance of universal health coverage (UHC) and the innovative role of the private sector. The event celebrated the launch of The Road to Universal Health Coverage – a new book published by Johns Hopkins University Press that explores the innovative power of the private sector’s role in the adoption of UHC, co–edited by Jeffrey L. Sturchio, Ilona Kickbusch and Louis Galambos, with a foreword by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization.
Multisectoral collaboration is recognized as a critical component to achieving “health for all,” yet governments, private companies, civil society and other non-governmental institutions continue to struggle in building trust to sustain critical partnerships. Last week’s conversation is a good example of how bringing stakeholders together to understand our different perspectives can help ensure that nothing gets “lost in translation,” and – most importantly – lead to new collaborations that will help improve health for millions of people around the world.
“We don’t speak a common language, we need to help each other understand our perspectives. We have to understand what the words are.” – Carmen Villar, Merck & Co., Inc.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Sturchio, CEO of Rabin Martin, turned first to Dr. Satoshi Ezoe, Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations, to situate the conversation. Dr. Ezoe explained the six asks that UHC2030– a global, multi-stakeholder platform focused on promoting UHC, has put forth before the High-Level Meeting on UHC, including a hope for greater multi-stakeholder mechanisms for engaging the whole of society for a healthier world. As a founder of the Group of Friends of UHC, an informal platform for UN Member States to discuss UHC, Dr. Ezoe recounted how the introduction of UHC in Japan following World War II helped create a healthy society that ultimately enabled Japan’s economic success.
“Where things aren’t working well is on the ground, on the national level, where there is not a lot of awareness in countries on how to implement a fully inclusive agenda.” – Natalie Africa, UN Foundation
Though many Member States have expressed a strong commitment to realizing UHC, the challenge to materialize this vision endures across countries of all stages of development. Natalie Africa of the UN Foundation shared several examples of country delegates developing a greater understanding of the connection between health and other geopolitical forces, and in the process developing a shared language between UN agencies and non-state actors—an issue that has been a key impediment to greater cross-sector collaboration. Meanwhile, Loyce Pace, President and Executive Director, Global Health Council, argued for local communities having a greater voice in the structure of UHC programs and building a more inclusive group of stakeholders at the country level who can be champions in implementing UHC.
“Everyone in this room has an ideology and you need to think about that when interacting with people. It will be a collaborative movement.” – Professor Louis Galambos, Johns Hopkins University
Professor Louis Galambos of Johns Hopkins University offered a historical perspective: despite the seminal Declaration of Alma Ata, signed in 1978, that expressed the right of all people to primary health care services, the global health community took 40 years to re-focus back to that original objective, following years of heavy investments in vertical programs, such as HIV and TB.
“You have to have good health to get rich vs. having to be rich to get good health. We need health for all, not just for the privileged.” – Dr. Naveen Rao, Rockefeller Foundation
Chris Gray and Carmen Villar, of Pfizer and Merck & Co., Inc., respectively, provided examples of how the private sector has already contributed to helping achieve the goals of UHC. They echoed Natalie’s call for building a shared language with government to strengthen global health partnerships and collaborate on programs. Dr. Stefan Peterson, Chief of Health Section for UNICEF, summed it up like this: “There is not just one ‘private sector.’ We should reference the ‘private sectors,’ to encompass the incredible diversity within this term.”
“One of the things that always comes up at these multi-stakeholder meetings is the mistrust and concern over motivations. The more we have discussions, the more we can get past them and get really concrete about what the accountability is and what the frameworks look like.” – Chris Gray, Pfizer
The upcoming High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage at the UN General Assembly in September presents an important opportunity for cross-sector collaboration for one of our generation’s greatest challenges: to ensure health for all. We look forward to the opportunity to work together in the coming months to help shape the conversation around the private sector’s multifaceted role in contributing to universal health coverage.
A very special thanks to speakers Natalie Africa, Dr. Satoshi Ezoe, Professor Louis Galambos, Chris Gray, Loyce Pace, Dr. Stefan Peterson, Carmen Villar and Dr. Naveen Rao of the Rockefeller Foundation for their thoughtful insights.
 UHC2030. (2019). UHC2030 launches ‘Key Asks from the UHC Movement’ for the UN High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage. https://www.uhc2030.org/news-events/uhc2030-news/uhc2030-launches-key-asks-from-the-uhc-movement-for-the-un-high-level-meeting-on-universal-health-coverage-544846/.