By:Jenny Spencer Issue: Biennial of the Americas 2010 Section:The Americas Roundtables
Confronting Transnational Health Threats
The president and CEO of Project C.U.R.E., the Mexican Secretary of Health, and a previous Merck vice president may seem like a mismatched group. They clearly have very different backgrounds and from the differences between non-profit, governmental, and corporate organizations they probably do not agree on the best approaches to most problems, let alone issues as complex as global public health. However, at The Americas Roundtable on Health: Transnational Threats at the Biennial of the Americas, Dr. Jeffrey Sturchio explained that creating diverse groups like these, from local clinics, to policymakers, to multinational corporations, is one of the most important pieces in addressing healthcare issues in the Western Hemisphere.
Dr. Sturchio’s commitment to global health did not come from working directly with suffering patients, but emerged from his experience at the pharmaceutical company Merck, where, as vice president of corporate responsibility, he observed the power of public-private partnerships to combat and eliminate public health threats.
River blindness is a disease that used to be found in 35 countries throughout the world, primarily in Africa and Central America. However, Merck was able to significantly decrease, and even eliminate river blindness in some countries by facilitating a partnership that included ministries of health, non-governmental organizations, the WHO, UNICEF, and the World Bank. It is this model that Sturchio points toward when asked about how to combat other transnational health threats. “It was a case where each of the partners contributed one of the resources that they had and it had a tremendous impact – that’s the way forward for many of the challenges we face.”
Partnerships like this have become more common in recent years as all sectors of society are using their unique resources and skills to contribute to public health solutions. Sturchio says that companies can contribute through the discovery and development of products like new drugs and vaccines and by refining processes to deliver them through supply chain management and organizational planning. Merck not only donated drugs to combat river blindness, but also organized an expert committee which developed an effective distribution system. Essentially, Merck developed and delivered the healthcare product; the government facilitated the policy framework and program, and non-governmental organizations focused on strategic implementation. Each sector used its own strengths to combat the disease at every angle. Creating diverse groups like these, from local clinics, to policymakers, to multinational corporations, is one of the most important pieces in addressing healthcare issues in the Western Hemisphere.
In addition to outside organizations, individual communities play an important role in addressing their own needs. As Sturchio pointed out when communities are empowered to advocate for themselves, they can force influential people to pay attention. He said, “One of the things that has enabled us as the global community to really make progress was that the communities and the people who were involved made it impossible for the politicians to ignore it, made it impossible for the medical community to ignore it, and made it impossible for the communities they live in to ignore it.”
River blindness is now history in some Central American nations thanks to the Merck collaboration. However, HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other diseases are still rampant, not only in Central America but throughout the world. Dr. Sturchio’s now works as president and CEO of Global Health Councils (GHC), an organization dedicated to brokering cross-sector public health solutions. GHC acts as a convener and neutral marketplace of ideas, encouraging all types of organizations to gather to compare notes and determine how to work together for the health of the world’s people. The organization is both a voice for action, as demonstrated through programs like the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, and a voice for progress, ensuring that the latest best practices and medical advancements are shared through platforms including Global Health magazine and an annual conference.
To explain his passion for encouraging corporate participation in public health, and collaboration across different sectors in society, Dr. Sturchio remarks, “Without working together and identifying the issues, identifying what the individual partners can contribute and their objectives, we won’t get very far.”
Jenny Spencer is completing her B.A. in International Affairs at the University of Colorado. She is interested in social entrepreneurship, cross-sector partnerships, and international development. In her spare time, she volunteers as a youth leader for an incredible group of freshmen girls. Jenny is an independent writer for ICOSA.