September 22, 2016 12:00 pm JST

Mandeep Dhaliwal and BT Slingsby: Partnerships are propelling Japan's laudable vision for global health

Last year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda includes 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) focused on ending poverty and hunger, achieving gender equality and improving global health -- among many other objectives.

Poor health caused by communicable diseases is disproportionately concentrated among impoverished communities and marginalized populations. There were 5.6 million new cases of tuberculosis and 548,000 tuberculosis-related deaths in the Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions in 2014.

Another concern is the increasing rates of treatment failure for malaria, which are being reported across the region. More than a billion people are also at risk of dengue, intestinal worms and elephantiasis.

In light of this, the government of Japan, driven by its rightful conviction that health is an indispensable component of human development, peace and security -- as outlined in the G-7 Ise-Shima Vision for Global Health -- has built an innovative partnership with the United Nations Development Program to lead the way in combating such diseases through increased investment in discovery, development and delivery of new health technologies.

Japan and UNDP, in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and a consortium of pharmaceutical companies, collectively contribute to the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund. An independent public-private partnership aimed at stimulating product development using Japanese innovation, the fund represents a new model for advancing global health research and development. Unlike sovereign funds or philanthropic foundations, the GHIT Fund sources all funding from outside capital.

IN IT TOGETHER The partnership between Japan and UNDP includes another essential and innovative component. The Access and Delivery Partnership (ADP), which brings together UNDP, the World Health Organization through the Special Program on Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, and the nongovernmental organization PATH, supports low- and middle-income countries in strengthening health systems so that the innovations developed with support from the GHIT Fund and others can actually reach populations in need.

For example, in Tanzania, the fund is supporting the development of pediatric praziquantel, a medicine to treat schistosomiasis in infants and preschool children, using Japanese pharmaceutical technology to improve drug compliance and functionality. The ADP also works to help strengthen the government's large-scale campaign to distribute preventive chemotherapy for schistosomiasis. This is a vital measure, given that only 27% of the 10.8 million people in Tanzania who require such chemotherapy received it in 2014.

This integrated approach is also being adopted in the Asia-Pacific region. In Indonesia, the ADP is supporting the establishment of national pharmacovigilance systems to enable the introduction of bedaquiline, a new treatment for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. The ADP is also working on improving capacities to better plan, procure and distribute tuberculosis commodities that will help more than 700 hospitals across the country deal with a major public health threat.

By catalyzing product development and safeguarding sustainable access and equitable delivery in low- and middle-income countries, the GHIT Fund and the ADP are adopting an integrated approach that seeks to address bottlenecks within the health system.

Both SDG 3 and the G-7 Ise-Shima Vision for Global Health explicitly acknowledge the need for the development of, and access to, new health technologies for neglected diseases, which we believe can be achieved through the integrated approach demonstrated by the GHIT Fund and the ADP. As part of their G-7 and SDG commitments related to global health, we believe that governments must continue to scale up their investments in promoting not only innovation in new treatments, vaccines and diagnostics, but also the building of resilient and sustainable health systems in low- and middle-income countries, so that universal health coverage and good health and well-being can be attained for all.

Mandeep Dhaliwal is the director of the HIV, Health and Development Group at the Bureau for Policy and Program Support in the United Nations Development Program. BT Slingsby is the CEO and executive director of the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund.

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