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How the private sector and civil society can work together to achieve healthcare for all

A health centre that Save the Children supports in a village in north-central Burkina Faso (photo: Clement Tardif/Save the Children)

This blog post was written by Simon Wright and Morel Naim from Save the Children and Priya Madina from GSK.


“How business does business, and where it does business, will have a significant impact on whether the Sustainable Development Goals are achieved.” Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme

A year on from the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, Save the Children and GSK are demonstrating that one of the ways non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and businesses can have a positive and significant impact on progress towards them is through joining voices to advocate for universal health coverage (UHC).

Why UHC?

More than 3 billion people globally – more than one-third of humanity – earn less than $2.50 a day. For them, accessing basic healthcare can mean plunging, or plunging further, into debt and poverty.

In response, a movement has built up among global and national actors around SDG target 3.8: that everyone should be entitled to healthcare regardless of their ability to pay for it.

This concept of the right to healthcare is still revolutionary in many parts of the world. But we believe that through greater collaboration across sectors real progress will be made toward achieving UHC. Save the Children has always championed building stronger health systems and campaigned against cash fees at the point of use. GSK supports the role of government health systems that guarantee services to their population, and it works in partnership with others, sharing GSK’s experience, skills and abilities.

Two unlikely partners for a global goal

The partnership between Save the Children and GSK highlights a common approach. We both share the same vision – that no child should die from preventable causes. And we both understand that achieving UHC is necessary to realise this.

So for the last three years – by working together at key international meetings, running events, and producing joint statements and a powerful video (see below) – we’ve advocated jointly for global health to stay high on the political and financing agenda, and for UHC, with a focus on children’s health and wellbeing, to be prioritised in national and global plans.

But our work goes beyond conference rooms in Geneva. In some of the world’s poorest countries, we’re supporting impressive global progress to demonstrate that UHC is not a utopian fantasy.

Burkina Faso, one of the world’s poorest countries, shows us there’s hope on the path to implementing UHC. Following the General Election here in November last year, one of the first actions of the new government was to pass a new policy offering free healthcare for children under five and for pregnant women, for deliveries and caesareans, and for breast and uterine cancer screening.

This impressive policy reform was supported by a civil society coalition – led by NGOs such as Save the Children – which brought together a critical mix of support from local government, domestic NGOs, religious leaders, institutional donors and the private sector. It was no easy achievement. GSK’s support for local advocacy activities was vital in allowing the coalition to do the right outreach activities at the right time.

Domino effect

But whether in Burkina Faso or elsewhere, we can’t afford to take our foot off the accelerator. We need to encourage greater collaboration among stakeholders, and to challenge governments, multilateral agencies, donors, private sector companies and NGOs to show that they are building sustainable and comprehensive health systems for the long-term.

In Burkina Faso, the national government started implementing this policy in selected areas in April – just five months after being elected – and plans to roll it out nation-wide over the coming year. Save the Children and other NGOs have been invited by the government to provide oversight for the implementation.

But there are many risks. For instance, if the demand for healthcare outstrips increased supply, it can lead to poorer quality care, and higher numbers of stock-outs of key medicines. Strong backing from the government, the international community and the private sector are vital.

Save the Children and GSK are helping to bring UHC to the global stage with strong evidence-based advocacy and by highlighting the role the global healthcare industry has to play through its support for the principle of access to medicines.

Together, we aim to influence other actors to support governments in reaching their UHC target. Whether your organisation is from the public, private, or not-for-profit sector, that requires a strong focus on helping countries and governments to finance and strengthen their healthcare workforce, and to build their systems for UHC.

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