Moving Past the Dollar Signs: Creative Approaches for True Partnership in Global Public Health

Public-private partnerships (PPP) have become major actors in the global public health community as the complexity and increasing cost of health care service delivery have forced governments and other stakeholders to look for more efficient ways to leverage their declining resources. While there has been a historical mistrust of the private sector, there is now recognition of the private sector’s important role in healthcare and the reality of interdependence of the public sector and the private sectors. This interdependence ultimately creates opportunities for mutual gain from partnership. However, forming these partnerships requires significant effort that each partner will only invest if they believe it is in their long-term interest and that there is an opportunity to make a significant impact.

The most common motivation for partnership has been financial, usually involving a direct donation and/or price reduction for various preventive and curative healthcare commodities such as vaccines or medicines (e.g. donation of Zithromax® and Mectizan® for blindness prevention programs and Malarone® for malaria control). While these types of partnership are an important way to increase access to vaccines and medicines for the poor, this is quite a limited view of ‘partnership’ that does not truly leverage the expertise, networks and resources of each sector.

Fortunately, public-private partnerships are evolving, with a greater understanding and appreciation of the contributions of each stakeholder. Undervaluing the role and expertise of each partner can disincentivize each stakeholder from making the significant effort needed to truly maximize the effectiveness and potential impact of the partnership.

Several new public-private partnerships have been announced this year that are experimenting with new, creative ways to utilize each stakeholder’s “value-add”. While the global health community may shy away from using terms like “value-add”, a private-public partnerships success hinges on identifying and effectively leveraging each stakeholder’s value-add. All this means is that each partner should seriously assess their organizational assets, core competencies and comparative advantage to help develop a clear value proposition (Devex ImpactBlog).

The GSK-Save the Children partnership is an excellent example of a new way to exploit each partner’s value-add to tackle the leading causes of childhood deaths. While the partnership will engage in traditional pharmaceutical company-NGO PPP activities such as widening vaccine coverage, “Save the Children will be involved in helping GSK to research and develop medicines for children with a seat on a new pediatric R&D board to accelerate progress on innovative life-saving interventions for under-fives and to identify ways to ensure the widest possible access in the developing world. GSK will be able to leverage Save the Children’s child health expertise and on-the-ground experience to reach children in the most remote and marginalized communities with basic healthcare” (GSK Press Release). Through this PPP structure, stakeholder expertise is recognized and valued, creating an opportunity for learning that would have otherwise been impossible. Save the Children can inform and learn from GSK’s R&D process and GSK can leverage Save the Children’s ‘boots-on-the-ground’ experience to ensure investments in innovative products are suited to the local context and reach those at the ‘last-mile’. Most importantly, partners are not shying away from articulating their value proposition and are acknowledging that their cooperation and participation is mutually beneficial. While the impact of this public-private partnership remains to be seen, this may well be the main ingredient for success.

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