Health and Healthcare Systems

Access and innovation: two issues for the private sector’s response to COVID-19

Research associate Kenneth Roy Rienecker III works in a laboratory at Sorrento Therapeutics where efforts are underway to develop an antibody, STI-1499, to help in prevention of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in San Diego, California, U.S., May 22, 2020.

It's vital that private investment is streamlined to support healthcare systems during COVID-19. Image: REUTERS/Bing Guan

Sofiat Makanjuola-Akinola
Director, Health Policy and External Affairs, Roche Diagnostics Solutions, Roche
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  • In September 2019, world leaders at a UN meeting on universal health coverage (UHC) discussed seven principles to guide private sector contributions.
  • These principles are nowhere more important than during a pandemic.
  • They include the access and affordability of key products and services.

The rapid spread and wide-ranging impact of COVID-19 on lives and livelihoods of people everywhere reinforces that health systems are everybody’s business. Around the world, countries are finding that people, communities, civil society organisations, academia and the private sector all have important roles to play.

Over the past two years, UHC2030’s private sector constituency has brought interested businesses and associations together around universal health coverage (UHC) goals. Alongside world leaders’ commitments at the UN high-level meeting on universal health coverage in September 2019, the constituency made this statement which includes seven principles to guide private sector contributions to UHC.

UHC2030 Overarching Principles
UHC2030’s 5 overarching principles. Image: UHC2030

Two of these principles focusing on access to affordable products and services and innovation are particularly important to guide the actions of the private sector so that it brings additional capacity to keep the country health system functioning while governments strive to urgently increase their capacity to test, trace and treat COVID-19 patients and also maintain their essential health services.

Have you read?

Building on these principles and commitments, members of the UHC2030 Private Sector Constituency have shared some of the diverse contributions they are making to the COVID-19 response. Examples below show how different organisations can ‘move together’ towards shared health goals.

Research associate Sachi Johnson works at Sorrento Therapeutics where efforts are underway to develop an antibody, STI-1499, to help in prevention of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in San Diego, California, U.S., May 22, 2020. REUTERS/Bing Guan     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

In the Private Sector statement on UHC, private sector companies make a commitment to:

Offer quality products and services that consider the needs of all people including poor and marginalised populations, and make these affordable, accessible and sustainable. The private sector is a significant provider of products and services in most countries. This core offering of demand-driven products and services is its greatest contribution to UHC.

Helping maintain delivery of critical supplies
For example:

Since 2015, the Pandemic Supply Chain Network (PSCN) has worked to accelerate the delivery of critical supplies to frontline health emergency responders around the world. Henry Schein, Inc. is a co-founder and the private sector lead of the PSCN, which also includes the World Health Organization, World Economic Forum, the World Food Programme, the World Bank, UNICEF, and other global partners. Henry Schein is working with the network to provide health workers with personal protective equipment (PPE), blood tests, and other tools they need.

Swoop Aero has deployed a medical drone logistics service in diverse settings, harnessing advanced technology for equitable provision and continued reliability of essential health supplies for 3.7 million people. In Malawi, Swoop Aero is supporting the Malawian national government’s health system respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Members of the Global Self-Care Federation (GSCF) are working to ensure continuous access to the critical medicines, medical equipment and vaccines they produce, while urging governments to implement policies and decisions that facilitate access to those in need. To maintain supply chains, members including Johnson and Johnson (JNJ), Bayer, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Proctor & Gamble and Reckitt Benckiser have increased production, are maintaining inventories at major distribution centres, and are working on preparedness plans with external suppliers.

Philips is ramping up production of certain critical care products such as vital signs monitors, portable ventilators, medical consumables and other solutions to help diagnose and treat patients with COVID-19

It introduced new Respironics E30 ventilators to help free up ICU units in wake of COVID-19 as an alternative where critical care ventilators are not available.

Expanding access to diagnostic tests
For example:

Novo Nordisk is performing up to 6,000 tests per day on behalf of the Danish healthcare system. It has also offered insulin free of charge for a six-month period to humanitarian organisations that normally procure Novo Nordisk medicines.

Fullerton Health is working with the government in Singapore to conduct large-scale, onsite testing for a large underserved population of migrant workers, especially supporting mass COVID-19 screening at dormitories of migrant workers.

A further commitment in the Private Sector Statement on UHC is to:

Create, adapt, apply and scale up innovations. Private sector innovation is an engine for new products, techniques, and insights that can improve healthcare, strengthen health systems, and increase efficiencies. Digital health can be game changing for health system transformation. New technologies and approaches can help countries to ‘leapfrog’ along health and development pathways and rapidly accelerate progress towards UHC.

Innovations in diagnostics and treatment
For example:

Research-based biopharmaceutical industry is drawing on scientific knowledge from decades of experience of developing solutions for infectious diseases such as MERS, SARS, Ebola and influenza. The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations is convening the expertise of the innovative biopharmaceutical industry, to identify constructive ways forward to tackle the global health crisis of COVID-19.

The Global Self-Care Federation’s industry members, including Sanofi, GSK, Bayer and JNJ are collaborating to develop breakthrough diagnostic solutions and develop a vaccine against the virus. Sanofi is working with Luminostics to develop a smartphone-based self-testing solution.

JNJ has mobilised R&D efforts and are partnering with the U.S. government on a joint $1 billion effort to accelerate a vaccine and supply one billion doses for emergency pandemic use by early 2021. Takeda initiated the development of an anti-SARS-CoV-2 polyclonal hyperimmune globulin to treat high-risk individuals with COVID-19 and the project has evolved with CSL Behring and now Biotest, BioProducts Laboratory, LFB, and Octapharma joining an alliance to develop a potential plasma-derived therapy for treating COVID-19.

BioNTech and Pfizer have announced completion of dosing for the first cohort of Phase 1/2 trial of COVID-19. It is the first clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate to start in Germany, and is part of a global development programme. Pfizer and BioNTech will also conduct trials for BNT162 in the United States upon regulatory approval.

Mobile health and digital solutions
For example:

In Kenya, AMREF Enterprises is supporting mobile health applications for remote training of CHWs and dissemination of information to households. An application called ‘Leap’ delivers learning content to CHWs by mobile phone, and has trained 53,000 CHWs in Kenya. They have reached over one million households with messages on COVID-19.

reach52 has collected data about health needs and COVID-19 risk factors to support surveillance and case tracking in rural Asia. They developed a risk algorithm to apply to population data to identify ‘at risk’ patients, and are working with governments to deliver targeted interventions. reach52 has expanded remote, digital services through a COVID-19 Information and Symptom Checker chatbot being rolled out in over 10 countries, and a health worker education platform with ‘on-the-job’ resources. Additionally, they continue to distribute essential medicines through their digital supply chain to rural communities even more isolated during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Apollo Hospitals’ AI-based coronavirus risk assessment has benefitted over 13 million people globally. Apollo has also provided customized, complimentary online-training programmes on COVID-19 awareness & management through Medvarsity to healthcare personnel across 120 countries, while the Apollo 24|7 App has been facilitating virtual consults for continuum of care.

Praava Health in Bangladesh has responded to the crisis with a free dedicated COVID-19 hotline, an online screening tool that patients can use to self-assess risk, and a webpage with latest national and international guidance. They have rolled out video consultations to replace in-person appointments and home delivery of pharmaceutical products to serve patients who do not require hospital care, in an effort to reduce the burden on hospitals so they can focus on severe COVID-19 patients. Praava Health's lab has recently received official permission for Covid-19 testing and plans to immediately scale its lab capacity to support large-scale testing for COVID-19.

Innovations to make services and products affordable and available in remote places
For example:

The Health In Your Hands collaborative initiative led by Mission & Co highlights 100 innovations from businesses and organisations that aim to make services and products affordable and available to patients and CHWs in some of the most remote and resource-scarce settings around the world. It brings innovations to settings where basic needs such as access to sanitation, clean water and mobile connectivity are not readily available. Mission & Co are also working with partners in the financial and public sectors to help small and medium businesses, to survive and continue providing much-needed health services through the crisis.

Members of the PSC have also highlighted donations and in-kind contributions. These include monetary donations to the International Committee of the Red Cross or national sections of the Red Cross or local authorities and community organisations as well as contributions to relief organisations, including the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO established by the UN Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation.

Background note on the UHC2020 Private Sector Constituency

In this current global crisis, working together across sectors, disciplines and stakeholders to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable people have access to the health care, testing and treatment they need for COVID-19 is increasingly urgent. To this end, as pat of a multi-stakeholder approach to achieving universal health coverage, UHC2030 works with for-profit private sector entities that directly provide services and goods within the health value chain, such as service providers, health insurers, and manufacturers and distributors of medicines and health products as well as innovative and disruptive technologies with applications to the health market. You can find out more about how the private sector can engage with UHC2030 and the UHC agenda here.

These examples are provided to illustrate what action private sector can take in the COVID-19 response under the responsibility of entities concerned. Not all of the private sector companies mentioned in this blog are members of the UHC2030 private sector constituency. It is beyond the scope of this blog to validate the extent to which private sector activities are aligned with national public sector responses or whether the private sector is able to make excess profits for providing the stated equipment and services. Inclusion in this blog post does not mean endorsement by the WEF who is hosting the private sector constituency, UHC2030 nor any of its members.

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