Global Health: Messages of Hope

Dec 12, 2017
Volume 37, Issue 12

There are numerous examples of the impact the pharmaceutical industry has had on improving global health, as evidenced by our feature coverage in this month’s issue. However, one example seemed to stick out the most at 28th Annual General Assembly early this month: “We have taken AIDS from a death sentence to a chronic disease.” 

That sentiment could have resonated with the hundreds of pharma professionals who gathered from across the world  simply because the event, “Pharma’s Commitment to Global Health,” was held on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1. But it was much more than that. It marked an example of public, private, and government groups coming together to conquer a public health problem, one that not only created a lethal threat to people’s lives, but also instilled a sense of fear that  affected wealthy communities in Beverly Hills to remote villages in the middle of Africa. 

“Everything that has happened in [healthcare] in recent times has created a better place—not a perfect one, but a better one,” said Dr. Andrin Oswald, director of life sciences partnerships for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “And we are working to make it an even better place 20 years from now.” 

Accomplishing this, forum speakers noted, will take commitment, partnership, and the ability of various entities to work in unison on multiple fronts. 

“It requires a lot of different stakeholders coming together,” said Oswald. 

For the Gates Foundation,  the potential of such efforts go well beyond just the funding aspect. As a trusted nonprofit, the Foundation sits in a unique position to bring a variety of healthcare influencers to the table.

“We have the ability to convene a bridge between government and other partners,” said Oswald. “The barriers that shouldn’t be there in the first place are broken down. The Foundation believes that the private sector has an important role to play in global health. Making a profit while doing good should be supported.” 

This is why partnerships are so vital when it comes to protecting global health. Take the Ebola virus, for example. Michael Nally, president of global vaccines at Merck & Co., and a 2016 Pharm Exec Emerging Pharma Leader, explained that the company knew Ebola was never going to be a significant commercial opportunity, but, at the same time, it was aware that only a handful of organizations could translate the science to make the vaccine. 

“Without collaborations around the world, we would have never gotten far enough with a vaccine,” he said. “[The pharma industry] has a broader obligation to global health. Shame on us if we are not working together with the global health community to find innovations. We are a science-based company. We cannot rest on just new innovation, and we have to work with the broader healthcare community to make our industry a more reputable public health partnership.”

While foundations or government agencies can provide as much funding as possible, it’s that science from pharma and biotech companies that they lean on the most.  

“Those in the nonprofit sector are not going back to the stockrooms and creating miracles in a test tube,” said Ambassador Sally G. Cowal, senior vice president, global cancer control, at the American Cancer Society. “We need your industry.” 

And, in turn, the industry should depend on nonprofits. However, there needs to be a better short-versus-long-term balance in these relationships, those in industry expressed at the event. “Organizations struggle with what that model is that allows a fair return, but also can have maximum global impact,” said Nally. 

Advocates pointed to noncommunicable diseases as the next area of global health that must be addressed. Doing more in cancer was especially brought up as an example.

“The tsunami of cancer threatens lives and livelihoods around the globe,” Cowal said. “Cancer is undermining people’s abilities to support their families.” 

She pointed out that, on average, cancer strikes people at the prime of their work life, ages 40-60. The disease’s economic impact—from premature deaths to  disability costs—can hurt the bottom lines of all companies. 

Such realities, however callous in comparison, illustrate that global health is not just about the health of people, but the health of economies, businesses, resources, and ecosystems across the world.

 

Michelle Maskaly is Pharm Exec’s Senior Editor. She can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at 

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