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Partnerships between governments and the private sector hold promise for creating much-needed health solutions in the developing world. When Smita Baruah, director of government relations at the Global Health Council, introduced a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill on September 27, she said she hoped the discussion on public-private partnerships (PPPs) to improve maternal, newborn, and child health would serve as “a platform to transition commitments and increased attention into action.”

The four speakers who followed provided concrete ideas of how to achieve that goal, discussing how PPPs can be effective in improving the health of mothers, newborns, and children and the lessons that their respective organizations have learned.

US government’s role

Wendy Taylor, special advisor on innovative finance and public-private partnerships at the US Agency for International Development (USAID), explained that her job is to turn the US president’s vision for partnerships into a reality. The government’s partnerships with the private and nonprofit sectors can advance collaborative funding mechanisms, such as the GAVI Alliance and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, she said. The partnerships also can leverage technology and innovation to develop products or use new communications tools to meet tomorrow’s global health needs, tap into private-sector expertise such as supply chain management, and influence delivery channels for global health products and services.

Taylor also spoke about the lessons USAID has learned about PPPs. She explained that the unique rationale for each partner’s contribution should be thought through in advance. Partners should have a shared vision and be committed to shared end goals. They should all be prepared to make investments. And, Taylor said, their joint projects should have the potential for sustainability.

Private-sector contributions

Joy Marini, director of corporate contributions at Johnson & Johnson, spoke about lessons learned from her company’s private-sector perspective. She said that partnership is a give-and-take process, with the first year often being the hardest because partners are building their trust with each other. Effective partnerships also require that partners find ways to communicate effectively and share relevant information, Marini said.

The private sector can make several contributions to PPPs, Marini noted, including funding, consultation, and other business assets such as relationships and management training. Private companies also are often able to afford to take risks with innovation, and they bring a drive for results.

PPP successes with PATH, Management Sciences for Health

Hugh Chang, director of special initiatives at PATH, explained how PPPs have been a key facet of PATH’s work since the global health organization was founded more than 30 years ago. As of 2009, PATH was engaged in more than 160 partnerships with the private sector, United Nations agencies, government ministries, community groups, other nongovernmental organizations, and foundations. PATH seeks mutually beneficial partnerships with the private sector to ensure that health products and interventions are available, accessible, and affordable for people in low-income countries.

As a nonprofit organization, Chang said, PATH brings an understanding of how to work and collaborate in low-income countries around the world through the organization’s knowledge of local health systems, markets, and regulatory environments. PATH also brings a portfolio approach to the development of health interventions, enabling innovative ideas to be tested while others are introduced and brought to scale. PATH has developed specific principles for private-sector collaboration that guide the organization’s participation in PPPs, Chang said.

Juan Carlos Algere, director of monitoring, evaluation, and communications at Management Sciences for Health (MSH), provided an example of what PPPs can look like in practice. MSH is a nonprofit international health organization that helps managers and leaders in developing countries create stronger management systems that improve health services for the greatest health impact. Through a successful USAID-funded project in Peru, MSH partnered with a local mining company to find sustainable, low-cost solutions to chronic malnutrition and other maternal, newborn, and child health problems.

Ongoing policy series

This event was the fourth in a series of briefings for policymakers about under-explored issues in maternal, newborn, and child health, cosponsored by the Global Health Council, MSH, and PATH.

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Posted October 6, 2010.