Expert insight

The power of partnerships and innovation: Accelerating progress toward Universal Health Coverage by 2030

2 May 2023
  • Thomas Cueni Director General

The UHC2030 Private Sector Constituency (UHC2030 PSC), which is hosted by the World Bank Group, has released a statement on the private sector commitments toward universal health coverage (UHC), ahead of Multi-stakeholder Hearings on UHC that will take place in New York on 9 May 2023. Thomas Cueni shares his views on the innovative pharmaceutical industry’s role in bringing critical solutions to accelerate progress toward UHC, from lab to the last mile.

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) means that everyone, everywhere, has access to the health services they need without the risk of falling into poverty. UHC is a major cornerstone of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the backbone of robust health systems, which are needed to deliver greater global health equity and security. Yet, today, the lack of UHC in countries globally harms billions of people through devastating out-of-pocket payments, delays in diagnosis and treatment, irregular uptake of health interventions, and suboptimal health outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to a reversal of recent gains in global health outcomes, as resources were diverted toward emergency response, causing disruptions to essential health services.

To get back on track, we need to work together across sectors – public and private – to improve readiness, resilience, and countries’ future health security. The pharmaceutical industry is a key partner in our strive toward UHC, as our life-saving medicines and vaccines, combined with innovative solutions to ensure access, bring hope and solutions to improving health around the world.

Innovation in the past, present, and future

The pharmaceutical industry contributes to the achievement of SDG 3 (target 3.8, Universal Health Coverage) by bringing to market nearly all the medicines and vaccines in use today. These innovations are often the fruit of decades of research and scientific collaboration, and have changed disease prevention and treatment paradigms, enabling people to live longer, healthier lives.

The pharmaceutical industry is a key partner in our strive toward UHC, as our life-saving medicines and vaccines, combined with innovative solutions to ensure access, bring hope and solutions to improving health around the world.

For instance, pharmaceutical breakthroughs like statins, which are used by an estimated 200 million people worldwide, have helped make major progress in preventing serious illness caused by cardiovascular disease. Since the start of the HIV epidemic in the ‘80s, the FDA has approved over 40 medications and medication combinations to treat HIV with another 140 medicines and vaccines in the pipeline. These innovations are extending the lives of millions of people living with HIV worldwide.

But for us to keep supporting efforts to achieve UHC worldwide, innovation cannot stop. Our industry is committed to keeping up its efforts to bring forward more effective therapies, developing heat-stable formulations that are easier to store and deliver in low-resource settings, developing shorter regimens that patients are more likely to complete, and offer new solutions for which there are no treatments or preventive measures yet.

For example, today, several companies are working on developing vaccines for chikungunya, Dengue, RSV, Tuberculosis (TB), and HIV, while also working to improve existing vaccines and therapies and provide new options. As an example, treatments for TB are being adapted to adhere to specific needs through pediatric formulations and enabling shorter, simplified medication regimens to improve adherence, going from 24 months to four months treatment.

The pace of innovation is also visible in the number of novel medicines approvals. In the past years, hundreds of novel medicines have been approved by major health authorities. With over 9,000 new medicines and vaccines in the pipeline today, innovation will continue to bring hope and solutions, improving health worldwide.

From lab to the last mile

However, innovation is pointless if it does not reach patients. Thus, improving access requires innovative approaches, new models, and collective action to reach patients at the point of care. The industry is involved in collaborative partnerships addressing systemic barriers and laying groundwork for long-term, sustainable solutions. These cross-sector collaborations have a variety of aims, from strengthening health care facilities, and sharing experience in technology and digital solutions to the training of healthcare workers, human resources management, logistics and supply chain management, health literacy, and education to communities.

One recent example of an innovative partnership is the Access to Oncology Medicines Coalition (ATOM). Launched in 2022, this Coalition brings together different sectors to improve access to cancer diagnostics, medicines, and care while also providing support through capacity building and training.

These efforts would not reach those in need without innovative funding streams, including vertically oriented funding mechanisms and new domestic financing models. These are in fact required to build and sustain the investments that are needed to achieve UHC. Industry is helping to expand access to quality products through partnerships and innovative approaches, including health financing mechanisms, pricing and payment models adapted to health systems and varying levels of wealth.

For example, the partnership between the World Bank and the Access Accelerated initiative has catalyzed significant new investments at a country level to address noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and help health systems work toward achieving UHC. Bringing together the strengths of the life science sector, the initiative is advancing global and local priorities, accelerating public and private investment in NCD prevention, treatment, and care, and optimizing public-private partnership engagement. Across six years, the partnership has supported over 40 NCD projects across 36 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), supported 15 government commitments through catalyzing new public investment in NCDs, and informed USD 2.1 billion in health system investment in LMICs.

Working together to achieve health for all

The innovative pharmaceutical industry stands together with other members of the global health community to support countries in accelerating their efforts to achieve UHC. Political leadership is required to enact and implement evidence-based laws and policies that create an enabling environment for the use of health technologies and innovations. This includes recognizing and sustaining innovation, ensuring regulatory effectiveness and efficiency, securing health product supply chains, establishing necessary healthcare infrastructure, promoting high-standard ethical decision-making, and building health worker capacity and patient empowerment.

This blog was originally published by PharmaBoardroom on 3 May 2023.