Expert insight

Mobilizing private sector contributions to resilient and equitable health systems – what will it take?

10 December 2021

In this blog, originally published on UHC2030, UHC2030’s Private Sector Constituency shares some examples of how the private sector contributes to strengthening health systems for UHC and health security.

At least half the world’s population still lacks access to essential health services, and almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year by health expenses.

Existing health systems are being heavily strained by the pandemic, as they face demands for hospitalization and specialist equipment for COVID-19, disruptions to other health services, and the economic shock of the crisis. COVID-19 has made the need for resilient and equitable health systems even more urgent. The time is now to invest in universal health coverage (UHC) and ensure country readiness against the next global health crisis.

Joint, coordinated action by diverse global and national stakeholders is imperative to make UHC a reality. UHC2030 provides a unique platform where different stakeholder groups, including a growing private sector constituency, can align on how they can work together to strengthen health systems. Challenges experienced across the world during the pandemic, and the clock ticking towards the 2030 deadline of the Sustainable Development Goals, stress the need for urgent and greater action.

How can the private sector contribute to achieving UHC by 2030?

The private sector makes vital contributions to progress towards UHC. In 2019, when global leaders came together to reinforce their commitments to health for all at the UN High-Level Meeting on UHC, UHC2030’s Private Sector Constituency made this joint statement on private sector contributions. The private sector is a significant provider of health products and services in most countries. It is a leader in innovation and new products, techniques and insights that can improve health care.

By bringing innovations and expertise to the table and partnering with governments and other health ecosystem stakeholders, companies can help strengthen health systems to meet both current and emerging needs. Partnerships born during the pandemic can be useful in the future of, for example, routine immunization and ensuring readiness to face future crises.

For example, the biopharmaceutical industry has committed to working with governments on vaccine access and more broadly in research and development that contributes to UHC. Pfizer and the UPS Foundation are supporting the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations. The UPS Foundation is donating freezers to countries that need assistance to build their ultra-cold chain capacity. The partnership leverages innovation in the healthcare cold chain to safely, securely and quickly deliver critically needed vaccines and therapeutics to areas where they are needed most. In the wake of COVID-19, the industry has affirmed its commitment to play a key role in safeguarding global health security.

Collaborations between companies and governments contribute to speeding up progress towards UHC and responding to current and future health crises. In Kenya, Medtronic Labs is working closely with the Ministry of Health of Kenya, several county governments, Kenya Defeat Diabetes Association, and Novartis Global Health in a landmark public-private partnership to address hypertension and diabetes. Such partnerships have potential for huge impact, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The Digital Connected Care Coalition is one platform working to increase private-sector engagement, driving collective action on digital and connected care in low- and middle-income countries towards UHC by 2030.

Digital innovations, when designed and deployed with equity in mind, can make a real difference in resource-constrained areas. Health tech company Philips provides technological know-how in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to upgrade facilities in the Republic of Congo at the primary and hospital level with modern infrastructure, energy, water, medical equipment, software and services to strengthen maternal and child health. In response to the call for healthcare support in Afghanistan, Canadian tech company Taleam Systems has teamed up with Afghan communities to deploy technology innovations to strengthen their health systems, like a battery backup for clinics and the creation of a QR code to enable clinics to more efficiently check in appointments. In Algeria, MEDx is working on behalf of the Dutch government on an Augmented Reality (AR) solution for tackling medical device maintenance.

Call to action: stepping up for equitable and resilient health systems

Lack of access to affordable, quality healthcare is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only intensified the situation. UHC means leaving no one behind and, as outlined in the statement on private sector contributions to UHC, increasing private sector engagement, leveraging innovative technologies and investing in infrastructure should all contribute to equitable access to health care.

Companies will need to participate in meaningful collaborations – open dialogues based on mutual trust – with governments and other health ecosystem stakeholders. This also requires governments to develop health policies that create an enabling and well-coordinated environment for all stakeholders. The private sector can help governments and institutions turn their UHC ambitions into concrete plans.

The importance of coordination, collaboration and trust between all key stakeholders is a critical lesson from the COVID-19 response. Governments will need to act as stewards, developing strategies and plans and establishing a conducive environment for collaboration and well-coordinated action. The private sector can play an important role in wider efforts to strengthen research and data analysis to evaluate progress and allow for accountability, mutual learning, and course correction, when necessary.

The time is now for the private sector to step up collective efforts to achieve UHC. The private sector has the power to help speed progress toward UHC, and by working together, we can make good on the promise of health for all. On this UHC Day, we join the call to leave no one’s health behind and invest in health systems for all.

UHC2030’s Private Sector Constituency, which currently receives secretariat support from the World Bank, convenes private sector actors and fosters dialogue and collaboration across the private sector and with other UHC2030 partners, constituencies and networks. Members include for-profit and social business entities within the health value chain such as service providers, health insurers, and manufacturers and distributors of medicines, health products and innovative technologies. To find out more: Private sector engagement – UHC2030