One of the most striking aspects of the current healthcare landscape is the way that the whole world is now so interconnected and so interdependent. This is changing the way we see health, creating a new global perspective that will affect the way we need to act.
Against this backdrop, we need to understand better the things that unite and divide us: shared opportunities and the need for shared action, as well as shared risks. At the same time, we need to think about what we can learn from each other: what rich countries can learn from poorer ones, as well as the other way round; what business and charity can learn and adapt from each other.
As healthcare challenges become ever more complex, inventive thinking can and must be shared across sectors and borders. One example of this is the ambitious partnership between GSK and Save the Children. It is important in itself, but also as a prototype of the way in which the private and NGO sectors can collaborate for the benefit of the poorest people in the world.
The partnership is impressive in scope and reach. It aims to help save the lives of a million children over five years. Already, in half that time, 1.3 million children have been reached. Over 125,600 children have been treated for malaria, pneumonia or diarrhoea; over 23,900 children have been fully immunised and over 10,600 health workers have been trained.
The partnership has developed a broad programme of work embracing technical innovation, the development of the health workforce and the sharing of knowledge and skills in the countries taking part. Ultimately health care is about people. Improving the health and lives of people around the world will depend on there being appropriate knowledge, leadership and numbers of trained people in each country. They need the technical support and advances in technology.
One of the ways in which the GSK and Save the Children partnership has supported this is through its Healthcare Innovation Award – an annual prize to identify and reward innovations in healthcare which help reduce child deaths in developing countries. When I was on the judging panel in 2013, there were nearly 100 fascinating entries – including a simple, low-cost air pump from Malawi, which helps newborn babies to breathe. Innovations like this show how countries are finding their own solutions to their biggest problems; they must be given the chance to scale up and share their bright ideas.
The partnership has set out to demonstrate that it is possible to use the skills of each partner, their respective competences together to achieve more than either could by itself. There is much to be learned from this partnership, even at this stage, about how private-voluntary sector partnerships can work and where the barriers are as well as the opportunities.
In this next stage, the partnership is planning to turn the promise and potential of the work of the first years into demonstrable improvements in the lives of children and their families. If and when this is achieved, it will provide an excellent case study for other organisations considering how best they can contribute to health globally.
The challenges of improving health globally and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals’ ambition of leaving nobody behind are massive. None of the SDGs exist in isolation: they are as interconnected and interdependent as the landscape in which we operate. If we are thinking about how to achieve the goal of good health and wellbeing, then we also need to think about education, sanitation and nutrition.
Progress at the scale that is needed can only be achieved by combining the skills and efforts of all sectors to multiply the impact that can be achieved by each alone. This partnership between GSK and Save the Children is pointing the way.