USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah spoke to the participants of the Partnering for Global Health Forum in Washington, DC, this afternoon, an annual event sponsored by BIO and BioVentures for Global Health. He praised the efforts of industry, especially the biotech sector, to work toward improving global health, including R&D for new therapeutics as well as product affordability and access efforts. He noted how the global health sector is committed to making a difference now more than ever, even in a time of harsh financial realities (the recent $4.3 billion GAVI commitment by nations around the world is just one sign of multisector determination to improve global health). And he echoed the importance of two key phrases flowing through the conference thus far–financial sustainability and partnerships.
What many Americans may not understand when they think of global health is how much it affects the country’s relationships and connectedness to other nations. One audience member suggested renaming the term “global health” something like “health security” or “sustainability” in an effort to gain more support for and acknowledgement of its value. The fact is, that by helping to build societies around the world, via providing access to treatments that many developed-nation populations may take for granted as well as via providing health education and training, the US is providing tools to those societies that can help them sustain their own healthcare efforts and infrastructure (global health R&D also benefits domestic R&D in terms of new science and technology). And healthy lives lead to better education, better environments, and better government, and thus, a safer world. Helping to immunize children around the world not only saves lives in developing nations but also helps to prevent the spread of and eradication of global disease. In an interconnected world, this is crucial to all nations’ well-being. “Such investments shape our values,” said Shah.
Shah talked about the role of public-private partnerships to improve innovations in science and technology. This area is a big push of the Obama administration. In many cases, communication between for-profit and nonprofit groups to innovate is quite limited. But each side has expertise and tools to offer and there is an argument to be made to continue to move in this direction.
Shah admitted that in the past it has been hard for the private sector to engage USAID, but he made a point to say that if the biotech/pharma industry builds a breakthrough product that can save lives, USAID will help to deliver it to the populations that need it most. He said USAID is already working to better engage the private sector as well as academic institutions to make such partnerships easier to navigate, and less bureaucratic.
Even the smallest biotech or pharma breakthrough can positively affect global health, and in the long term, improve livelihood and security for all.