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A Seat at the Table: Pharmaceuticals and the SDGs
After more than two years of intense negotiations, the United Nations' 193 member states have unanimously agreed on a new Sustainable Development Agenda with 17 goals. Together with the UN Post 2020 Climate targets, these agreements will have far reaching impacts on regulation, markets and expectations for business. Yet their success also relies significantly on business innovation, engagement and implementation.
UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki Moon stated this year that business will be “indispensable” in the period ahead[i]. As such, bringing in the private sector and other stakeholders only for implementation and tracking of existing policies would be too little, too late. Instead, now is the time to encourage and recognize the input of business across the entire life cycle of inter-governmental policy development, including priority-setting, policy formation and implementation.
Health, my personal area of interest, is a sector where we have already seen the power of multi-stakeholder collaboration. Partnerships between civil society and the public and private sectors have improved the lives people suffering from diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), and cross-cutting challenges associated with women and children’s health.
With over 300 case-studies of partnerships in low-and middle-income countries, we can be sure that for health, business is not coming to the table without strong credentials. But what the SDGs are demanding of the global health community for the next 15 years goes far beyond just doing what we did for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). A cornerstone of the health SDG (goal 3)[ii] is the powerful concept of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), assuring each person the right to healthcare without being forced into poverty.
The pharmaceutical industry supports efforts towards Universal Health Coverage, and is ready to work together with others in pursuit of this undertaking. UHC is top of the health agenda in countries from India to Uganda, thanks partly to WHO-led advocacy. Fulfilling the vision of UHC will require investing in health systems strengthening, including resilience to health emergencies, provision of integrated care and services, and a focus on prevention of chronic and injury-related conditions. UHC is possible through broader health care innovation across the public and private sectors that enables access and improves quality, while at the same time being flexible enough to generate tailored and country-owned solutions.
UHC is the result of a concerted approach involving coordination of policies at government level, financing solutions, private sector involvement, and innovation. This will require working together across sectors like never before, captured for the next fifteen years by SDG 17[iii] on partnership. It is not enough to create “a space” for stakeholders. Business and other stakeholders will bring their best efforts and representatives if they know the input will be heard and reflected through official channels. Recognition of official advisory groups representing business, labor and other elements of civil society is a tried and true element of many intergovernmental efforts, including the International Labour Organization and the and the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development.
To this end, we are already on the right track. Differently from the launch of the MDGs, which was the last time the global community took upon itself to frame a global agenda and guiding political action for a generation, the SDGs have seen the private sector has been involved from the start. So when Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon urges, “the private sector to take its place at the table and plot a path forward for the next 15 years, reaffirming once again that responsible business is a force for good”[iv], responsible business is up for the challenge. We have brought our own chairs to the table, demonstrating what we contribute to shared goals for a common good.
[ii] Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
[iii] Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
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