The world’s worst killers – non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as obesity, heart disease and many cancers – are responsible for over 60 percent of premature deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
NCDs diminish economic growth and sap productivity among working age populations, since these diseases affect adults in their prime. NCDs also push households into poverty and disproportionately affect low-income countries, where the diseases strike younger populations and place great strains on already overburdened healthcare systems.
Despite these grave threats, NCDs are largely preventable by mobilizing governments, civil society and the private sector to craft sound public health policies. Governments alone struggle to manage NCDs because the diseases drive up healthcare costs and divert scarce resources from other areas that need them. Given the strain the NCD epidemic places on national healthcare systems, the United Nations 66th World Health Assembly reiterated a call for member states to consider interventions across many segments of society for NCDs prevention and control. Part of the UN’s Post-2015 Development Agenda aims to scale up multi-stakeholder responses to NCDs.
It is under this backdrop that USCIB and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) organized a meeting on July 11 hosted by Pfizer that explored how public-private partnerships can be leveraged to combat the NCD epidemic. USCIB and the ICC are the only private sector organizations representing business that interface with the United Nations on NCD prevention at a multistakeholder level. The public-private partnership discussion took place during the UN High-Level Meeting to review progress achieved in the fight against the NCD epidemic in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.
Panelists at the pubic-private partnership event included Cary Adams, CEO of the Union for International Cancer Control and chair of the NCD Alliance; Jean-Michel Borys, general secretary of the EPODE International Network; Kim Fortunato, director of Campbell Healthy Communities at the Campbell Soup Company; Mario Ottiglio, director of public affairs and global health policy at the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA); and Mike Wisheart, senior advisor of corporate engagement, advocacy and justice for children at World Vision International. The discussion was moderated by Louise Kantrow, ICC’s permanent representative to the United Nations.
A dozen government officials attended the event, including Ambassador Courtenay Rattray, the Jamaican ambassador to the United Nations and co-chair of the UN General Assembly meeting on NCDs. Ambassador Rattray is also the co-facilitator of the outcome document on the review and assessment of NCDs. The event drew dozens of NGO, civil society and private sector representatives as well.
Following welcoming remarks by USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson, panelists explained that a multistakeholder approach is necessary to address the epidemic, with Adams noting that “partnerships are the only way we can address these things called NCDs.”
Borys and others agreed that all of civil society’s stakeholders need to take charge at the global, regional and local levels to combat childhood obesity and other forms of non-communicable diseases, and that global coordination mechanisms are key for making the most out of public-private partnerships.
“This group of industry representatives understood that business can only survive in societies that flourish,” Kantrow said referring to the panelists, “they understand the importance of thriving in successful societies.”
Since the UN called on the global community to address the NCD epidemic in 2012, public-private partnerships addressing NCDs have more than doubled, according to Ottiglio. He presented the findings of an IFPMA global survey, which revealed that NCD public-private partnerships have increased and are present virtually everywhere around the world. Ottiglio said that IFPMA “reaches three million people worldwide through a strong volunteer network in 189 countries” committed to combating NCDs.
During the discussion, Fortunato offered a case study of the Campbell’s philanthropic work in Camden, N.J., where childhood obesity is high. She stressed the importance of collective partnering, which is the cornerstone of Campbell’s corporate philanthropy program, as well as committing to a collective impact model in which private companies work with all levels of government to address NCDs.
Multi-stakeholder involvement was a recurring theme during the discussion, with Wisheart explaining that “we need actors from all sectors of civil society,” and “we want to see more partnerships, working at greater speed, having greater impact. To address the trust issues that sometimes arise with public-private partnerships, Wisheart noted that the best way to manage partnerships risks is to ensure there are strong accountability mechanisms that increase the space for collaboration.
Helen Medina, USCIB’s senior director of product policy and innovation, concluded: “The private sector understands the urgency needed to address non-communicable diseases and has an interest in curbing them for a variety of reasons, including having productive employees providing products and technical support to manage NCDs, and sustaining a long-term relationship with the communities in which it works. At the end of the day, it makes economic sense for business to be involved in curbing NCDs, and it’s extremely important for social and economic development.”