Private sector can help build African health systems

A panel discussion organized by the Friends of the Global Fund on June 13th 2017

Participants after the discussion

‘Passionate partnerships rooted in strong local ownership are the key to reaching Universal Health Coverage’, said Dr. Ndung’u Karau, Kenya’s Ambassador to the United Nations, at the panel discussion hosted by the Friends of the Global Fund on June 13, 2017. Jointly, local and international companies can make these partnerships successful.

Health systems stakeholders from Germany and international partners gathered in Berlin on the sidelines of the G20 with Africa conference to discuss “Private Sector Contributions to Resilient and Sustainable Systems for Health in Africa“. As vice-president of the Friends of the Global Fund Europe, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, former German Minister for Development and Economic Cooperation, welcomed the participants.

A variety of views on the private sector’s role

All participants stressed that the private sector should take more responsibility for health systems strengthening, but their views differed substantially in relation to how this should be done. Dr Maik Stumpf, representing the pharmaceutical company Jannssen Research & Development, agreed that companies should look beyond sales and create shared value. He put forward that building healthy communities means building markets for the private sector and companies have an inherent interest to become more active.

Heiko Warnken, Head of Division Health, Population Policy and Social Protection, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), sees a great opportunity for the private sector to invest in African health systems under the Ministry’s recently launched Marshall Plan with Africa. A young and growing Africa needs 22 million jobs each year and stronger health systems can help to fill that gap.

Peter Boyle from the International Prevention Research Institute added yet another perspective: African health systems and their partners are losing precious time when it comes to tackling the rise of non-communicable diseases on the continent. Diabetes patients in Mozambique have an average life expectancy of less than a year even though it is a manageable disease with sufficient access to insulin. He called for better public-private partnerships to address these and other challenges of dealing with NCDs. Christoph Benn, Director for External Relations at the Global Fund, suggested that especially supply chain management is an area in which health systems can profit from the expertise of private sector players.

Co-chair of the Civil Society branch of the G20 (C20), Marvin Meier, raised some critical points about the current private sector involvement in health systems with specific regard to access to medicines. High costs of essential medicines or vaccines can be a strain on available health budgets. The Global Alliance for Vaccines Initiative’s (GAVI) pays one third of its procurement budget to pharmaceutical companies GSK and Pfizer for a pneumonia vaccine. Moreover, private sector contributions should be oriented towards the needs, and disease profiles, of the countries in which they invest.

Do not forget the local African private sector

Corinna Heineke, GIZ

At the beginning of the discussion, two short inputs by Ecobank and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH underlined the importance of working with local companies. Ecobank’s David Pitts launched the Africans4Africa Initiative, an investment fund that aims to mobilize African companies and philanthropists. It follows the ambitious goal of becoming the leading social equity firm on the continent with health being one of the focus sectors.

Corinna Heineke, Manager of GIZ’s Global Project Access to Medicines, presented the insights from an ongoing study, commissioned by the ‘Project to foster Innovation, Learning and Evidence’ on behalf of BMZ, on the link between local pharmaceutical manufacturing and health systems strengthening. Developing local pharmaceutical production can improve access to medicines and help to generate the scientific, technological and skills base for building stronger and more resilient health systems. These health-industry mutual benefits also depend on funding and managing competent, inclusive, population-focused health services, and on effective industrial regulation for quality assurance. Mr Benn supported her contribution later on and explained that the Global Fund is increasingly sourcing in Africa acknowledging the role of local manufacturers in their health systems.

Overall there was consensus that SDG 3 and Universal Health Coverage cannot be reached without the private sector playing its part. Yet, discussions on what that part should be will definitely continue.

Tobias Bünder
June 2017

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