Expanding the boundaries of global health: The intersection of the public and private sector

A health worker visits a malaria patient in a rural village in Kenya. An increasing number of companies are turning their attention to global health needs. Photo by: Novartis AG / CC BY-NC-ND

“There is a shift taking place in the public health arena to strategically engage the private sector to address global health needs,” said Bridget McHenry, a fellow for Global Health Fellows Program II, serving as organizational development adviser for Office of Population and Reproductive Health in U.S. Agency for International Development’s Global Health Bureau.

An increasing number of companies are turning their attention — and their resources — to the vast health needs of the global population for two essential reasons: It represents opportunities to create shared value and it is foundational to a thriving economy. Relatively new to the landscape of international development, strategic partnerships help to guide the strategies, investments and on-the-ground engagements that can inform the deployment of the resources only the private sector can bring.

Working with the Public Health Institute and its innovative work through the USAID-funded Global Health Fellows Program opened my eyes to the realities, needs, and opportunities for the private, public, and social sectors to engage in global health. It’s not news to the professionals in this field that health is the base upon which development and commerce meet, but it’s something that the rest of us might not see as clearly.

In 2010, GHFP-II saw an opportunity to expand that kind of insight by linking with PYXERA Global to create “Global Health Champions,” strengthening programming by enabling nonprofit organizations to work with corporations who place their employees in short-term pro bono assignments that leverage their professional expertise to improve health in underserved communities.

The U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, which were ratified last month, address global health challenges for people of all economic and cultural backgrounds. The venn diagram below is one depiction of how these goals interrelate. At the center of the graphic, is one of the most important points: partnership is required to achieve these goals. No one organization — or one sector — can do it alone. The challenges these goals represent require the innovative thinking from a diverse community of talent — leveraging government, nonprofit and private sector professionals alike.

Goal 3, for example, is the most obvious health-related goal, because it speaks directly to ensuring healthy lives and promotes wellbeing for all at all ages. When BD sends its employees to Peru to provide professional assistance to CerviCusco, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing cervical cancer, and build the organization’s capability to reach more than 35,000 underserved women from the Andes mountains who often need to walk up to five hours for basic gynecological services, they are meeting a vital health need.

Click here to view a larger version. Photo by: PYXERA Global

Perhaps it’s not such a surprise that one of the world’s largest and most innovative medical technology companies would be involved in such work. But would you think of IBM, Dow Chemical and PepsiCo at the edge of innovation for global health? These companies — and companies like them — are champions for global health, and their work shows it.

Goal 2 speaks to ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture. When PepsiCorps provides Heifer International South Africa, an NGO that works to provide people with the skills and resources they need to expand their options for the future, with the professional assistance to improve the quality of life of low-income families by developing sustainable agriculture, they are meeting an important health need.

Goal 6 speaks to ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. When Dow Chemical sends a Leadership in Action team to Ethiopia through the Dow Sustainability Corps, to work with PSI and IMC on sanitation marketing, they are meeting an important need.

In each of these cases, corporations provided their skilled employees at no charge to the host client to build capacity and enable them to better serve their clients and meet their mission.

While the private sector provides short term pro bono champions, the core of the GHFP-II places global health professionals at different stages of their careers as full-time fellows for two-four year assignments. This work augments USAID’s technical capabilities to address key global health priority areas, while at the same time further developing a diverse group of global health professionals.

Bridget McHenry is a prime example of the return on that investment. As a full-time Global Health Fellow, she works with the Office of Population and Reproductive Health to support the capacity of the public health supply chains in low- and middle-income countries that receive donated contraceptives and medicines from USAID. Through this work, she is identifying a sustainable workforce to help the meet its mission in global health, which also directly contributes to Goal 8: “Promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.”

“I didn’t initially think of my fellowship as anything but global health because that is the frame I have always thought of it in,” said McHenry. “But my fellowship is about looking at public health systems and developing human resources capacity — I bridge the gap between the outward face of public health, such as physicians, and its inside workings, such as supply chain and logistics.”

McHenry points out that the linkages with the private sector are critical as emerging and frontier markets expand and logistics workforces are developed. “It’s important to keep in mind that the skillsets required to ensure that contraceptive and pharmaceuticals are available and accessible in the most remote health outposts are the same capacities that drive commercial success as well.”

There are a number of other examples where organizations and individuals have provided the assistance, including manufacturing and marketing assistance for clean cookstoves; strategic communications that help prevent violence to women and girls; logistical support to ensure reliable supply chains for medicines and clinic suppliers; new financing models which secure affordable, reliable health care. These are a few ways in which the private sector — especially in partnership — can provide their assistance to build a world of better health for all of us.

Learn more the integrated nature of the global health and the Sustainable Development Goals this Nov. 10-12 at The Global Engagement Forum in Washington, D.C., or tune in live here on Nov. 12.

Sustaining Development is a three-month online series exploring the post-2015 development agenda hosted by Devex in partnership with Chevron, FXB, Global Health Fellows Program II, Philips, Pfizer, UNIDO, U.N. Volunteers and the U.S. Council for International Business. We will look at the practical steps needed to move the sustainable development goals from concept to reality. Visit the campaign site and join the conversation using #SustainDev.

About the author

  • Laura asiala

    Laura Asiala

    Passionate about the power of business to help solve the world’s most intransigent problems, she leads the efforts to attract more participation of businesses to contribute to sustainable development through their people and their work. Prior to working for PYXERA Global, Laura was director of corporate citizenship at the Dow Corning Corporation. Her 30-year career in international business has included roles in HR, business development, finance, marketing, branding, communications, and corporate social responsibility, including the company’s public-private partnership with the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (a UN Foundation, U.S. State Department, and Clinton Global Initiative).