This post was written by Jeffrey L. Sturchio, president and CEO of the Global Health Council
Recently I had the opportunity to spend time with senior health officials from several African countries as part of the annual African Health Delegation visit organized by Global Health Progress. The theme of the week—“Accelerating Progress Through Strengthened Partnerships”—points to the growing attention to collaboration at all levels as an effective approach to solving critical global health challenges. The Brazzaville Declaration adopted earlier this month by the first Africa Regional Ministerial Consultation on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) also acknowledges the importance of partnerships, alliances and networks that join academic and research institutions, public and private sectors, and civil society as vital tools in the prevention and control of cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and respiratory illness.
But the notion of partnership also raises important questions about what we mean by the term: Who makes the decisions? Who controls the money? How do partnerships fit with country ownership of health strategies and action plans? African health ministries must grapple with the pragmatic issues of addressing a broad spectrum of public health challenges with scarce financial and human resources, often while juggling myriad inquiries and disparate reporting requirements from many well-intentioned development partners. The members of the African Health Delegation had a range of questions and discerning observations for us about how to put real country ownership into practice, while their comments about practices in their countries (ranging from the complex federal system in Nigeria to the smaller, yet still complicated situations in countries like Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland) clarified the issues of partnership for the mix of academic, NGO and private sector leaders in their audiences in both Washington, DC, and New York. The perspectives that delegation members offered on the questions we discussed were illuminating and informative. The lively exchanges at the events I attended reinforced a basic insight: global health policy can’t be designed in a vacuum, and there’s no substitute for local knowledge of what works and what doesn’t.
Clearly Africa faces a daunting agenda of health challenges. HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria, high maternal and infant mortality rates in many countries and neglected tropical diseases are among the issues that have received increasing attention and new resources in recent year. At the same time, chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and respiratory diseases represent an emerging threat as well. If current trends continue, by 2015 Africa will have the largest increase in number of deaths from NCDs compared to 2004 of any region. It’s estimated that by 2030 NCDs will account for almost half of all deaths in Africa. From the informative exchanges with the African Health Delegation during their visit, it’s evident that these issues are receiving thoughtful consideration in Africa – and well-designed public/private partnerships will be an important part of sustainable solutions in coming years.
The Global Health Progress (GHP) Initiative seeks to bring research-based biopharmaceutical companies and global health leaders together to improve health in the developing world. GHP provides a platform for companies, governments, public health leaders, universities, foundations, and other stakeholders to raise awareness around key health priorities; share experiences and best practices; mobilize resources and forge new partnerships to address health challenges.
The Global Health Council’s annual conference, to be held June 13th-17th in Washington, DC, will address the questions addressed by the African Health Delegation, along with the full range of other global health challenges. Our theme, “Securing a Healthier Future in a Changing World,” looks at the changing burden of disease and demographic changes that will shape the world in the next 20 years.
The GHC conference will also serve as a bridge to the UN High-Level Meeting on NCDs in September. We’ve also created a new NCD Roundtable (co-chaired by the American Cancer Society and the NCD Alliance) to improve understanding of these issues, to mobilize action and to help shape outcomes at that gathering.
The NCD Summit has the potential to catalyze global efforts to address NCDs in the same way that the 2001 UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS galvanized action on that issue. Since then, treatment advances and access to medicines have been instrumental in helping to reach more of the 33 million people living with HIV infection. We’re at a similar turning point for NCDs and we can seize the opportunity to mobilize in a worldwide effort.
NCDs must be addressed with an integrated approach that takes into account broader health and development objectives. Prevention and treatment efforts should be included in existing programs to address conditions such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Integration leads to better outcomes and more efficient use of limited resources. By combining efforts, and working in well-designed partnerships, we can accomplish a great deal more together than by working alone.