2020 was a tumultuous year as we, along with the rest of the world, adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 continues to have a major impact on the global healthcare ecosystem and beyond. It has disrupted delivery of essential products and services which are critical in efforts to control infectious diseases, and in protecting the health of our most vulnerable groups, including women, adolescents and children, amongst others. The ramifications on businesses have been huge, necessitating new workforce health strategies and approaches to production, delivery and supply chain management across the globe.
The private sector has been instrumental in addressing COVID-19 in a myriad of ways, from raising funds and supporting national responses, to investing directly in primary healthcare, taking critical steps to protect their employees and communities, and leveraging their capabilities in communications, manufacturing and supply of health products – including innovation in new treatments and vaccines.
GBCHealth facilitated knowledge-sharing through a series of online discussions and developing a collection of tools, resources and guidelines to help businesses navigate during and beyond this pandemic.
As we look back, we want to highlight some of the work of our key programs and partnerships in responding to the challenge of COVID-19 and its impact on business, society and other global health programs.
In collaboration with the Private Sector Constituency (PSC) to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and the Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa (CAMA), GBCHealth hosted a discussion on Reimagining Commitment to Fighting HIV, TB and Malaria During COVID-19, which focused on how the private sector is sustaining its response to the three diseases while also working to address the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The three diseases have shown us ways to come together and work in harmony through technology, supporting access, developing health systems, listening to the voice of communities, and mobilizing resources at multiple levels.
As Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund, stated, “We have an incredible amount at stake right now, not just in terms of the lives that could be lost to COVID-19 itself, but also the lives that could be lost because of the knock-on impact on other diseases. It is not just HIV, TB and malaria, it’s also maternal health, immunization and so much more. On TB and HIV, we could lose a decade worth of gains, and for malaria we could slip back to the death rate at the millennium, two decades ago.”
Dr. Lia Tadesse Gebremedhin, Minister of Health of Ethiopia, commented that the business community has been one of the strong partners in the COVID-19 response, through financial and in-kind donations, as well as other support. She shared examples of working closely with local manufacturers to shift some of their capacity to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitizers, and early discussions to begin local production of test kits. She noted that local manufacturing not only ensures the availability of the supplies, but also supports local businesses during this crisis. The result is that the Ministry of Health has been working closely with the Ministry of Industry and Trade to make regulatory processes faster while also maintaining quality of commodities.
Paul Schaper, Executive Director, Global Health Policy, Merck & Co., Inc., stressed that “One thing that we have learned from HIV, is that no company and no sector can do this alone. To be successful at bringing breakthrough innovations to those that need them globally, we would need a multisectoral response with funding from governments and donors… We’ve learned from experience in fighting HIV/AIDS and Ebola, that science and collaboration are essential both to develop the medicines and vaccines in public health emergencies like COVID-19, but also more important, to get the medicines and vaccines to those that can benefit from them.”
Global Fund Private Sector Constituency (PSC)
The Global Fund PSC is a group of companies that are passionate about ending the three diseases and bringing a business voice to the work of the Global Fund. The constituency helps improve the Global Fund’s governance and shape the strategy of the Fund.
In 2020, the PSC welcomed four new members to the group: BASF, Freight in Time, OraSure Technologies, and Takeda. These companies bring new and exciting capabilities to the constituency, including expertise in diagnostics, vector control, supply chain, and much more.
For the PSC, 2020 meant adapting to quickly-changing priorities for the Global Fund and reinforcing the private sector’s role in the response to COVID-19. As the pandemic spread across the globe, the PSC contributed to high-level policy discussions as to how the Global Fund should utilize its capabilities and resources to combat the disease. GBCHealth launched a weekly news flash to keep the PSC membership up to date on the fast-paced external and Global Fund developments on COVID-19.
2020 was an important year in Global Fund Strategy development too, and the PSC has been involved at every step of the way. This included extensive consultations with all PSC members and a white paper which captured viewpoints on priority issues for the new Global Fund Strategy; this continues to serve as a platform for further consultations with members and the wider business community. The PSC also contributed to the Global Fund’s Open Consultations.
In September, the PSC held a first-of-its-kind ‘Open Day’ for Third Party Logistics companies (3PLs). This interactive discussion was attended by a diverse group of 3PLs and illustrated the importance of far-sighted 3PLs adding their voice and perspective to the work of the Global Fund. The PSC plans to host more open days with different sectors in the future, with one on technology/data on the horizon for early 2021.
Furthering our efforts to support the private sector’s response to the three diseases and emerging pandemics, GBCHealth and Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria convened an expert discussion focused on developing and scaling innovative tools in the fight against the three diseases and emerging pandemics. During the session we heard that innovation is critical not only in product design, but also in prevention and treatment efforts. The importance of partnerships in improving efficiency and harmonization of efforts was also stressed.
“Innovation occurs across sectors – developments in one area can lead to developments for a completely different disease. We can think we’re doing something only for one disease area, but when a new disease comes up, like COVID-19, we realize that we can apply these lessons to other areas as well,” commented Zeda Rosenberg, Founder and CEO, International Partnership on Microbicides.
Helen McDowell, Head of Government Affairs & Global Public Health, ViiV Healthcare noted that “We cannot trade off one infectious disease for another – they need to be treated in parallel.”
As we heard across a variety of settings during the year, community partnerships are central to implementing effective interventions, in part by helping to understand whether an innovation is making impact and meeting its potential. Public-private partnerships are needed to scale up and disseminate private sector innovations. For example, ViiV has been working with the Global Fund on a program called HER, which drives engagement and inclusion of adolescent girls and young women in the fight against HIV. This program gives a voice to those who are most affected by HIV, and ensures that programs are designed with them in mind, providing skills, empowerment and resources to deliver results.
The 2020 PSC Annual Retreat took place virtually for the first time in early December, bringing together member companies for rich conversations on the geoeconomic and geopolitical realities facing the Global Fund as it looks forward to 2030, the role of the private sector in the Global Fund moving forward, and how the Global Fund should proceed in its planning of the post-2022 Strategy. A final day of the retreat will be held in early 2021.
As we enter a year that will continue to be shaped by the effects of COVID-19, GBCHealth is looking forward to working with the PSC to continue bringing expertise, best practices and new partners to the Global Fund, the fight against COVID-19, and other emerging pandemics.
Corporate Alliance for Malaria in Africa (CAMA)
CAMA is a GBCHealth-led initiative to drive partnerships for malaria control and elimination. From its inception, CAMA has been a trusted platform for knowledge sharing and networking, with an initial focus on workplace programs and corporate-led community malaria programs.
CAMA’s work in 2020 focused on helping its members navigate the pandemic, adapting its workplan and realigning its activities to help contain the spread of the virus, while maintaining a focus on corporate commitments and investments towards malaria elimination.
Nigeria was selected to host the global commemoration of World Malaria Day (WMD), and CAMA was nominated to Chair the WMD organizing committee alongside WHO. In this new virtual world, the organizing committee hosted a webinar, organized by GBCHealth, on Sustaining Malaria Intervention Amid COVID-19, which featured discussion on the importance of maintaining malaria interventions in the face of COVID-19, and on how various sectors can cooperate to mobilize resources and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the fight against malaria.
Dr. Lynda Ozor, Malaria Programme Manager, WHO, Nigeria, focused on how the pandemic is testing the resilience of health systems and how we can ensure access to key interventions. Regarding COVID-19, she reinforced WHO’s directives to countries; that it’s not the time to scale back malaria initiatives. She compared and contrasted malaria and COVID-19, highlighting the challenges caused by similarities in symptoms. She explained that the COVID-19 outbreak is a concern for malaria programs because of the pandemic’s effect on health workers, the shifted focus of the global and local community, the effects of public health measures such as stay-at-home directives, and many other reasons.
Ms. Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, Unit Head, Sustainability, Corporate Communications, Access Bank and Co-Chair of CAMA, emphasized the importance of investing in the health of people, because people are the greatest assets of a society. She discussed how the private sector, through its role as the driver of the global economy, has the responsibility to invest in health to ensure a healthy and prosperous society.
Dr. Francis Aminu, Health and Nutrition Director, Aliko Dangote Foundation spoke about the need to focus on developing a healthy, educated and empowered African populace. He emphasized that funding is critical to malaria efforts, highlighting the importance of and relationship between domestic and international funding, alongside a core package of recommended malaria interventions, and prioritizing and scaling-up these interventions.
Surrounding World Mosquito Day in August, GBCHealth & CAMA convened a discussion on Emerging Issues and New Tools to Fight Mosquito-Borne Diseases in Africa, in which participants provided an update on the state of mosquito-borne diseases in Africa, challenges and strategies for elimination, along with new innovations such as vector control tools.
As part of its efforts to support government malaria programs, CAMA played a key role in the development of a new malaria strategic plan for Nigeria (2021-2025), by channeling the voices and inputs of the private sector into the deliberations in order to facilitate the successful implementation of the new strategy.
In November, CAMA launched its own strategic plan for 2021-2023, which sets out the blueprint for action for the next three years. Through private sector initiatives, CAMA aims to reach millions of people with malaria control interventions to improve awareness and scale up prevention activities. The goals of the strategic plan include expanded private sector engagement and investment in malaria programming, reaching at least five million people directly with malaria commodities and 100 million people with prevention and control messages through strengthened public-private partnerships, and more.
Partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
GBCHealth’s ongoing partnership with the United Nations Population Fund Regional Office for West and Central Africa (UNFPA WCARO) aims to encourage smart health system strengthening, investments in reproductive health, women’s empowerment, basic literacy, financial education, entrepreneurship and to support the demographic dividend. Our work focuses on building multi-sector partnerships to address, scale and amplify key focus areas within the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project.
As UNFPA’s work evolved amidst the pandemic, so did our support, focusing on SWEDD activities that raise awareness of health issues and hygiene requirements related to the pandemic, and spotlighting the impact of COVID-19 on women and girls in the Sahel through support of the #StrongerTogether campaign. The campaign addresses the issues caused by the pandemic, including problems caused by lack of access to water, menstrual health and sanitary hygiene; lack of distance learning and risk of girls not returning to school; and increased risks of gender-based violence during lockdowns. GBCHealth has been working with Facebook and others to amplify a number of key messages to girls, parents and other influencers of the importance of continuing girls’ education and employment opportunities, in alignment with the #StrongerTogether campaign.
In partnership with Greenmash, GBCHealth was awarded a grant from COVIDaction for digital health system deployment. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO, formerly DFID) and its partners, who spearheaded the COVIDaction program, announced nine innovations in October that would receive financial support, technical assistance, and peer learning as part of the initiative, from a pool of more than 550 applicants. GBCHealth and Greenmash, in partnership with the SWEDD project, were selected to pilot and ultimately scale Mango in a regional effort in the Sahel.
Poor availability and management of health commodities is a key challenge to health systems in the Sahel (e.g., Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger). Unreliable access to commodities increases the risk of unwanted pregnancy and associated longer-term impacts. A priority intervention of the SWEDD project is to “Reinforce the regional availability of RMNCHN commodities and qualified health workers.” GBCHealth, in partnership with Greenmash and UNFPA, will introduce the Mango commodity tracking system to reduce stock-outs and bring efficiencies to the management of commodities.
The project aims to address health system challenges by leveraging Mango, a software system (i.e., mobile application platform) to improve commodity tracking, reduce stock-outs, and enhance timely data essential in managing outbreaks, delivery of vaccinations or treatments, and health education. The system enables regular real-time reporting of commodity data from the primary health facility level using mobile technology and messaging. It enables commodity data to be submitted to the system from anywhere at any time using simple mobile devices, including basic feature phones and smartphones. Activity is reported in real time and made accessible to authorized users through online and offline reports, charts and maps. Mango can easily be integrated with DHIS2 and logistics systems. The system is scalable to allow for enhancements in functionality and future deployments in additional countries.
As part of our partnership with UNFPA WCARO, we also supported their new initiative to investigate the connection between Demography, Peace & Security (DPS) and translate these learnings into a comprehensive program that will help address the fragility of the Sahel holistically by focusing on the structural causes of extremism. In October we wrote about the socio-demographic context that was the impetus for the campaign, and we also featured an article from UNFPA WCARO Regional Director Mabingue Ngom on what it would mean to achieve peace in the Sahel. GBCHealth supported the High-Level Symposium on DPS that took place in December, and collaborated with UNFPA on a photo book which illustrates the complex DPS issues in the region, as well as UNFPA’s work addressing these issues, “The Promise of Youth: Demography, Peace and Security in the Sahel.”
Looking Ahead to the Future
With the new year comes the opportunity to build back better. We will redouble our efforts to leverage the full resources of the business community to meet today’s most pressing health challenges. We look forward to continuing to work together as we each do our part in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, to strengthen health systems, to protect the most vulnerable and more, through partnership, consistency and innovations.