A HUB FOR IDEAS, DEBATE AND RESOURCES ON HOW THE WORLD IS DOING ON INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT GOALS
Transitioning from the MDGs to post-2015: a view from the private sector on what’s working and why
As we approach the end point of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015 I see encouraging signs of progress. Worldwide mortality for children under five has dropped by 41 per cent between 1990 and 2011, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half and deaths from malaria have fallen by over one third. Now is the time for the global community to focus on a final push to achieve the MDGs.
But now is also a critical time to draft the next generation of the development framework and to ensure that we build on the progress made thanks to the MDGs. As a science-led global healthcare company, GSK has some ideas about how to do that. We want to make our medicines more available and affordable because we know first-hand the value of innovation and the promise it holds for patients. The private sector has a role to play. As a director of a program on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), I know these goals can make a difference.
NTDs are a group of parasitic and bacterial infections that infect more than 1 billion people in the developing world. Some kill while others impair people’s lives, leaving them disabled or unable to go to school, work, care for their families or resist other kinds of illness.
Although not mentioned explicitly in the MDGs, controlling NTDs can directly combat poverty. For example, hookworms slow a child’s physical growth and also damage their intellectual and cognitive abilities. Treating them with medicine that costs a few cents per dose has a dramatic knock-on effect, boosting future wage earnings by 43%. Treating intestinal worm infections has been shown to decrease school absenteeism by 25%.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has set some very specific goals around combating NTDs by 2020. These have been taken up by a coalition of global pharmaceutical companies and leading organisations that made commitments and signed the landmark London Declaration in January 2012 to eliminate and control 10 NTDs.
Progress over the last year is outlined in a report, From Promises to Progress. In 2012 pharmaceutical companies donated more than one billion treatments to meet 100 per cent of drug requests by endemic countries for their NTD programmes: evidence that the private sector has a key role to play in development.
GSK started donating drugs to the WHO in 1998 and since then has provided over 3.5 billion tablets of albendazole, an anti-parasitic drug that helps to stop the transmission of lymphatic filariasis.We also are helping to reduce and control soil-transmitted helminths (STHs). These are intestinal worm infections, such as hookworms, which are transmitted by eggs in human faeces. The eggs contaminate the soil in warm, humid areas without adequate sanitation, with dreadful consequences for the local population. GSK will be donating up to 400 million treatments of albendazole each year to 2020 to deworm school-age children.
Much of the success toward eliminating child deaths, poverty and even NTDs can be attributed to the MDGs’ clear definition and prioritisation of issues that pose the greatest challenge to reducing poverty and developing human potential. The goals have focused attention, built unity of purpose and driven progress by governments, NGOs and companies.
But how do we maintain momentum and advance the MDGs? How do we ensure a seamless transition to the post-2015 goals? You can read more about our position on the post 2015 agenda here, however I would offer three concrete steps:
Set clear and specific ways to measure progress. The private sector can share its experience of using measurements to drive excellence with NGOs and governments. We must first agree key strategic goals and then develop a system to measure progress on a regular basis. I believe it is important that NTDs are specifically included in the post-2015 agenda, and so I was pleased to see their inclusion in the Report of the High Level Panel which is looking into this issue.
With the current fiscal climate, governments are looking for an effective return on the programmes they fund. I know that the programmes I’m involved in deliver good value for money, but we need better measurement tools to demonstrate this cost-effectiveness.
Regularly report meaningful measures of progress. Reporting on the MDGs is variable at the moment, which makes any kind of meaningful comparisons very difficult. We need to move towards integrated reporting of validated data which brings together financial, economic, social and environmental impact measurements. This would significantly improve our understanding of current progress towards the MDGs and use that as a baseline for any future framework.
Currently data are very weak in the development world. There is very little analysis of what works and what does not, with no consistent way of addressing this issue. We support the development of an open-source health delivery database to contribute to better outcomes and transparency in this area and would commit to setting up a multi-disciplinary private sector network to support improved healthcare outcomes.
Set both long and shorter-term goals. GSK supports long-term goals, such as the 15-year-long MDGs. However these long-term aims need to be broken down into shorter-term milestone targets. Creating a regular reporting mechanism will ensure that progress is monitored and course corrections can be made on a regular, timely and on-going basis.
I believe these are just a few steps that would support and assist building new and additional partnerships. The progress on the MDGs has shown us that a partnership approach works. Governments, NGOs and the private sector must continue to work together to ensure we set ambitious and achievable goals. For example, GSK and Save the Children UK have recently initiated a wide-ranging partnership to help save a million children’s lives.
Who can foresee what will happen by 2015, never mind 2030? We can be certain there will be change: new ways of working, new partners, fresh ideas, stubborn challenges and perhaps even new diseases. Only by combining our intellect and resources towards innovation can we secure a brighter future for the worlds’ poorest people.