Getting Down to Business at the 70th World Health Assembly May 2017


On Monday, May 22nd  the Private Sector Roundtable (PSRT) and the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI), hosted a side event at the 70th World Health Assembly in Geneva, entitled Getting Down to Business on Global Health Security: Developing Real Solutions Through Industry and Government Collaboration. With over 100 participants in the audience from multinational corporations to public sector stakeholders engaged in global health security, the event aimed to advance cross-sectoral partnerships including the private sector in addressing the range of issues posed by increasing threats to global health security. The PSRT is a consortium of multinational companies who are committed to improving local, regional, national and transnational security concerns as outlined by the Global Health Security Agenda.

The PSRT formed two years ago with the goal of supporting the mission and goals of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) through private sector engagement. To date, there are approximately a 20-member (and growing) organization with GE Health Care and Johnson & Johnson as the co-chairs, and Rabin Martin (a New York city based strategy consulting firm) as the Secretariat. In 2017, HGHI launched a major initiative in pandemic preparedness and global health security, of which engagement of the private sector is one part. Following a strategic planning meeting at the National Academy of Medicine on April 18th, 2017, HGHI and partners developed a Monitoring Framework to track global progress in pandemic preparedness. Components of this framework outline opportunities for the private sector to engage in the improvement of global health security in ways that benefit both business and public good. HGHI is working closely with the PSRT  and the Joint External Alliance (JEE) to facilitate greater dialogue and partnership across the public and private sector  to address pandemic preparedness and increased security. This side event in Geneva represeneds one of hopefully many future opportunities to bring together the public and private sector and carve out meaningful ways work together toward common goals.

Dr. Tom Price

The morning event featured special remarks from Hon. Jane Ruth Aceng, Minister of Health of Uganda; Dr. Päivi Sillanaukee, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health of Finland; and Dr. Tom Price, former Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human services. 

Founded under the GHSA, the PSRT's mission is to "mobilize industry to help countries prevent, detect, and respond to health-related crises, and strengthen systems for health security." It aligns public health needs with overarching business objectives and members are committed to leveraging their infrastructure to protect employees and their families, preserve the functioning of high quality health services, and maintain economic development in the countries where they operate.

Dr. Päivi Sillanaukee
Dr. Sillanaukee, who co-chairs the Joint External Evaluation (JEE) Alliance, a cross-sectoral platform supports the WHO's health security assessment and capacity building efforts in countries worldwide, next spoke to the importance of the JEE in producing reliable information about a country's strengths and weaknesses in pandemic preparedness. In addition, the JEE serves as a tool for systematic collaboration. She drew attention to the need to engage partners such as NGOs, civil society, and the private sector, in the process, including the PSRT. 

Similarly, Minister Acheng, discussed the need to engage stakeholders across sectors, including the private sector, in health security efforts. The most cost-effective approach, she argued, is investing in preparedness. She invited the PSRT to conduct a scoping mission in Uganda to identify the ways in which it can support the country in reaching its health security goals. Uganda is an active member of the GHSA, and underwent an assessment of its health security capabilities with the JEE tool in May 2017. Results were presented at the GHSA Ministerial Meeting in October 2017, hosted in Kampala, where the theme was 'health security for all,' focusing on Minister Aceng's priority to engage communites, NGOs, and the private sector. 

Dr. Aceng

Secretary Price shed light on the U.S. Government support for the GHSA and global health security. He added that we need a range of expertise from diverse partners, including those in foreign affairs, defense, NGOs, civil society, and the private sector. He also noted that the PSRT serves as an important model for how companies can come together around similar issues. 

Following the perspectives from different governments, Jeff Sturchio, Rabin Martin President & CEO, moderated a panel discussion with Jennifer Esposito, General Manager of Health and Life Sciences at Intel Corporation, and Dr. Ashish K. Jha, Faculty Director of HGHI. Ms. Esposito, who is also a member of the PSRT Steering Committee and leads its Technology & Analytics Working Group, spoke to the group’s work on an online JEE platform, which allows users to view JEE scores in an easy-to-digest digital form, as well as on a catalog of private sector solutions, outlining available private sector goods, services, and projects related to the specific GHSA Action Packages. She put forth the need to build trust across sectors and industries during periods of calm, before the next public health emergency strikes. Dr. Jha, respectively, emphasized the role of academia in global health security and accounced that HGHI is launching a major moniroting and reporting initiative to track progress in global health security to ensure that the world is better prepared for the next major outbreak. The private sector is one component of the framework and it has a crucial part to play at the national, regional, and international levels. "Do we really need to engage the private sector?" he asked. "Only if we care about being effective." 

The discussion was then opened up for questions and comments from the audience, which included individuals from across all sectors. Themes and highlights include:

  • During the JEE process, countries should involve a range of private sector industries and expertise such that companies can better understand their challenges and help fill the identified gaps.
  • In health security efforts there is a cycle of 'panic and negelect': we consistently fail to invest in prevention and preparedness and only mobilize when facing tangible threats - when the window for effective preparation has passed. We need to engage the private sector more consistenly during times of calm, as well as during times of crisis, in order to build trust that will enable effective collaboration.
  • We need to have adequate financing for the combatting infectious diseases outbreaks infrastructure.
  • A strong call to action was made: if you are part of the private sector and not a member of the PSRT, you should be; if you are not part of the private sector, you should be part of the effort to engage the private sector.
  • Our speakers highlighted specific efforts and group in the global health security space which included: The Pandemic Supply Chain Network; the focus on health security at G20 and B20 meetings; the World Economic Forum public-private project accelerator; the Africa Centers for Disease Control; the International Working Group on Financing Preparedness and Response; the JEE Alliance's regional marketplace to identify who can fund and execute capacity building; Gavi, the vaccine alliance; and RTI International.    

Dr. David Barash

Dr. Rebecca Martin, Director of the Center for Global Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, delivered closing remarks and emphasized that private sector engagement in global health security is not an option, but a must. Country governments, NGOs, and communities play a critical role in understanding the local, regional, and global needs, she explained. In conclusion, she argued that health security is national security and that costs can be drastically saved by investing in prevention efforts rather than only investing in response efforts.