For 35 years, the Global Health Council has focused on critical needs in health and has often raised the clarion call for emerging public health challenges. These have included AIDS, children’s health, reproductive rights of women, and the spread of infectious diseases. This year, progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was the central theme and I participated in the opening plenary along with Tessa Wadlow from UNICEF, Ambassador Wegger Strommen from Norway, Minister of Health Kakooza from Uganda, and Sering Falu Njie from the UN Millennium Campaign.
With 5 years to go before the MDG goals, set in 1990, need to be achieved, there was strong evidence of progress on several global health goals. Progress includes improved access to water, declines in under nutrition, sharp increases in vaccine coverage, and greater access to malaria bed nets. However, the attainment of these goals remains uneven with little progress evident in reducing under nutrition, particularly in two large countries – India and Nigeria – which account for 21% and 12% of all stunted kids respectively worldwide. Further, very little evidence of progress in reducing maternal deaths is reported, and across Africa and Asia, access to modern sanitation services remains poor.
My task was to reflect on the role of the private sector in contributing to more rapid progress. I highlighted the potential of food companies to address world hunger through many strategies PepsiCo already has underway, the power of companies to reduce poverty through employment creation, and the critical need to fully activate one of the most neglected MDGs - namely MDG 8 that explicitly calls for private-public partnerships.
Audience reaction was mainly positive especially when I highlighted how real progress has been made in improving vaccine access because of a massive 10-year old private-public partnership, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations (GAVI). GAVI has created markets for vaccine companies to innovate and develop products for the poor, actively established an incentive system through advance purchase agreements to support long term investment by companies, and developed a new, efficient governance structure that involves the WHO and UNICEF without becoming bogged down in their bureaucracies.
I stressed that a GAVI formula for nutrition related issues seems long overdue!
For more details on the meeting, visit: www.globalhealthconference.org.