Access Accelerated at the 74th UN General Assembly: The Future of Public-Private Partnerships for NCDs: Collaboration in the Age of UHC

On the margins of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA74),  Access Accelerated hosted a side event titled, “The Future of Public-Private Partnerships for NCDs: Collaboration in the Age of UHC.” During the lively panel discussion, participants explored the role that multi-stakeholder partnerships can play in closing gaps in access to NCD services in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and charting a common path towards universal health coverage (UHC).

In his introductory remarks, Access Accelerated Director Dr. James Pfitzer set the tone as he welcomed a  crowd of more than 140 attendees to a thought-provoking dialogue on how to advance NCD health under the framework of UHC.

“While we’re making progress and we have a broad scope of technical capacities from our member companies and our partners, we understand that there’s a lot more that we can do,” said Dr. Pfitzer. “But we also recognize that we need to work together; that multi-sectoral collaboration is the way forward.”

Dr. Dennis Laryea
Manager of NCD Control Program, Ghana Health Service
In his keynote address, Dr. Dennis Laryea, Manager of NCD Control Program in the Ghana Health Service, provided a call to action by encouraging our audience to “walk the talk” on NCD prevention, treatment and care. “Is action on NCDs going to be all mere talk?” he asked. “Have we moved beyond talking about it to real actions?”

Drawing on his experience in Ghana, Dr. Laryea emphasized that the government cannot achieve UHC alone. In 2013, Ghana launched an NCD policy and strategic plan. During implementation, they not only established a multi-sectoral steering committee to oversee NCD prevention and control, but also incorporated NCDs in the benefits package of their national health insurance scheme. These developments are vital in the context of achieving UHC, but public-private partnerships can help drive more progress. “I wish to humbly add my voice to the call to action for SDG 3.4 which seeks to reduce premature mortality from NCDs, and 3.8 which seeks to achieve universal health coverage,” Dr. Laryea explained. “The private sector can play a critical role in achieving these goals.”

A second keynote address from Dr. Svetlana Axelrod, Director of the WHO Global Coordination Mechanism on NCDs (GCM/NCD) provided more insights on the fight against NCDs. She called for whole-of-society,  whole-of-government, and health in all policies approaches to scaling up action. A ministry of health cannot achieve UHC alone; for example, UHC also requires engaging with ministries of finance to ensure proper investments, especially in countries with limited resources.

Dr. Svetlana Axelrod also encouraged collaborative partnerships that harmonize both public and private goals.  “The collaboration should be proactive,” she stated. “We would like to hear your ideas on how we can better work together to strengthen national commitments and enhance implementation; how we can pull together public and private resources to improve the affordability and access to medicines for NCDs.”


“Political commitments and actions are important to bring together the global community to address common threats.” 

– Dr. Svetlana Axelrod

Following these keynote remarks, a substantive panel discussion was held, moderated by Katie Dain, Chief Executive Officer of the NCD Alliance, and Caroline Roan, Vice President of Global Health and Patient Access at Pfizer Inc. and President of The Pfizer Foundation. Our panel featured:

  •  Tony Kimata, Patient Advocate
  • Dr. Le Thi Thu Hien, Program Director, Non-Communicable Diseases, PATH Vietnam
  • Carmen Villar, Vice President for Social Business Innovation and Head of the Merck Foundation
  • Phangisile Mtshali, Director, Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation (BMS) Foundation
  • Dr. Dennis Laryea, Manager of NCD Control Program, Ghana Health Service.

Left to right: Katie Dain (NCD Alliance), Caroline Roan (Pfizer Foundation), Dr. Le Thi Thu Hien (PATH Vietnam)

The moderators highlighted four key questions to guide the panel discussion: What are some of the lessons learned  that we have seen in public-private partnerships for NCDs, particularly NCD care? What do good partnerships look like? How do we ensure that people and public health outcomes are at the center of what we do, in terms of partnerships? What are the metrics for success?

 “What we really want to emphasize is the reality on the ground,” Ms. Roan said to provide further context for the discussion. “How you marry big policy ideas and big commitments, and how that happens to affect patients and communities.”

Key Takeaways

During our discussion on how the public-private partnerships can move the needle on NCDs and UHC,  four key themes emerged:

  • Ensure people living with NCDs (PLWNCDs) are at the center of programming and advocacy: Our panelists agreed that meaningful involvement of PLWNCDs is a core element of NCD response. Twenty years ago, patient advocate Tony Kimata was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He emphasized that PLWNCDs face enormous challenges with navigating health systems and receiving the right information on their condition. To improve awareness of NCDs, the involvement of PLWNCDs is vital. “Their voices do matter,” Mr. Kimata declared. “They’re the ones who have the experience.” Several speakers underscored the importance of putting people first in public-private partnerships for NCDs.
  •  “Radical collaboration”: Our panel discussion featured diverse perspectives – from a patient advocate to a corporate foundation to government. Carmen Villar, Vice President for Social Business Innovation and Head of the Merck Foundation, challenged us to reflect on that diversity and think about what “radical collaboration” looks like for addressing NCDs. Dr. Le Thi Thu Hien, PATH Vietnam’s Program Director for Non-Communicable Diseases shared her sentiment. Given the dramatic rise in the global NCD burden and limited funding for NCD programs, she said, “We need to work together so that we can maximize our partnerships and we can mobilize a collective effort to work on NCDs.”
    Left to right: Dr. Le Thi Thu Hien (PATH Vietnam), Carmen Villar (Merck Foundation), Tony Kimata (patient advocate)
  • Integrated programs and care: The BMS Foundation’s groundbreaking work and lessons learned in HIV response has informed how they mobilize a response to NCDs. Phangisile Mtshali, Director of the BMS Foundation, reflected on how their initial investments were only addressing one disease, but as early as 2007, they expanded to address NCDs such as cervical cancer screening for women living with HIV. “A woman living with HIV will show up at your clinic regularly as you have instructed as a health care provider or community health worker,” she explained. “So while you have her there, at least screen for cervical cancer, and while you’re talking about that, teach her about breast cancer.” Similarly, Carmen Villar highlighted the benefits of integrated care, where one community health worker visiting a household for a vaccine delivery can also can also take their blood pressure and educate them about diabetes. “Think about the whole of the person and the whole of the family,” Ms. Villar said. “Because that is really what we’ll need to do to achieve our goals.”
  • Mobilizing investment and financing for UHC: In her keynote address, Dr. Axelrod recognized that national governments are increasingly open to working with the private sector for political, economic, and health goals. Like other panelists, she recognized that the government, especially in developing countries with limited resources, cannot achieve UHC alone – mobilizing financing for UHC is critical. An attendee from World Heart Federation asked our panelists about their exchanges with Ministries of Finance or with private financial institutions to mobilize investments through public-private partnerships. Dr. Dennis Laryea reiterated integration with the Ministry of Finance while developing an NCD strategy while Ms. Villar highlighted  innovative finance mechanisms led by Merck that bring the power of the dollar to social impact bonds. Together, our panelists agreed that creative, collaborative approaches to financing UHC are the way forward.

The event concluded with remarks from Thomas Cueni, Director General of International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers (IFPMA). He reflected on what it takes to achieve UHC by emphasizing the importance of political will and responding to the wishes of citizens, while also calling on the pharmaceutical industry to  “invest more and invest better.”

“This is not just about us, the NCD community. This is about how we work beyond our very comfortable siloes and truly integrate with one another.” 

Katie Dain
Chief Executive Officer of the NCD Alliance
Left to Right: Dr. James Headen Pfitzer (Access Accelerated), Katie Dain (NCD Alliance), Phangisile Mtshali (BMS Foundation), Caroline Roan (Pfizer Foundation), Dr. Le Thi Thu Hien (PATH Vietnam), Carmen Villar (Merck Foundation), Thomas Cueni (IFPMA), Dr. Svetlana Axelrod (WHO), Tony Kimata (patient advocate), Dr. Dennis Laryea (Ghana Health Service)