Transforming Global Health: Cross-Sector Partnership to Advance the SDGs

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Abbott UNGA
© Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global effort to address some of the most pressing challenges facing the world. Some of these goals, particularly SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), deal directly with the health of individuals and communities, but better societal health underpins virtually all 17 SDGs. The success of these goals requires cross-sector partnerships, finding new, innovative solutions, and rethinking how the private sector and all stakeholders leverage their strengths to address global health challenges.

During the 2019 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) week, the U.S. Chamber Foundation and the global healthcare company Abbott convened an evening program that brought together global health stakeholders from across the NGO, public, and private sectors to discuss what is needed to make the next ten years of the SDGs successful, and how to overcome the largest obstacles to that success.

To start the proceedings, Her Excellency Dr. Hala Zaid, Minister of Health & Population (MOHP) for the Arab Republic of Egypt (pictured below), spoke on the impact of multisector-led solutions to advance global health in her country, particularly around innovations that have improved screening and treatment of communicable diseases such as hepatitis.

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    Abbott UNGA
    © Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

    Then, we welcomed a panel discussion to outline the potential in finding multi-sectoral solutions to global challenges. Moderated by Dr. Christopher J.L. Murray, Director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (far right), the panel included:

    • Damian Halloran, Vice President of Infectious Disease, Emerging Markets, Rapid Diagnostics, Abbott (far left)
    • Dr. Sheila Davis, CEO, Partners in Health (second from left), and
    • Jeff Dykstra, Co-Founder and CEO, Partners in Food Solutions (second from right).

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    Abbott UNGA
    © Photo by Ian Wagreich / © U.S. Chamber of Commerce

    The panelists shared their views on how to create lasting, measurable improvements to global health.

    Key Takeaways

    Cross-sector partnerships are critical to achieving the health-focused SDGs. With only ten years left until the 2030 deadline, panelists emphasized the importance of harnessing the collective power of different sectors – government, business and civil society – to accelerate progress toward the SDGs. Too often the many facets of health are addressed in silos – causing public, private, and nonprofit-led campaigns to be duplicative or less effective. To maximize impact, it is more important than ever to integrate partners from across all sectors and the UN can help by providing a more concrete roadmap for designing effective multi-sector partnerships.

    Public-private partnerships are making a real impact on the ground. The panelists expanded on Dr. Zaid’s comments regarding a campaign to eliminate hepatitis. Most hepatitis B and C infections have no overt symptoms but can lead to serious health problems like liver failure and cancer. With the highest prevalence of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection worldwide, Egypt recently embarked on a large-scale disease screening campaign in partnership with the private sector. The government’s strong vision and leadership, coupled with its decentralized, multi-sector approach to tackling the issue, led to the prevalence of the virus declining from 7 percent to less than 1 percent today.

    The private sector needs to provide more than philanthropy to advance sustainable progress. While philanthropy is much needed in a world of unsolved problems and limited resources, businesses will serve society better in the long run by focusing their efforts on areas where opportunities for business intersect with positive social impact. By aligning core business strategies with the needs of society, companies can empower communities in unprecedented ways to address the SDGs and lay the foundation for sustainable growth.

    Real progress takes time. While it is important to set short-term goals, real transformation will occur through long-term collaboration and investment. Sustainable progress depends on building the capacity needed for local communities to implement projects on their own. Capacity-building takes time, and the private sector can amplify impact by taking a long-term view to development and staying the course to deliver sustainable outcomes. 

    The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said “a much deeper, faster and more ambitious response” is needed to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Approaching complex global challenges requires the participation of many partners that can combine their unique skills, resources, and talent to increase the speed and scale of the transformation that the world needs. While significant progress has been made since the launch of the SDGs, our willingness to foster cross-sector partnerships that build on each other’s strengths will be the determining factor in achieving a sustainable future for all.