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Project Last Mile: How forming unlikely partnerships can have a positive impact

Project Last Mile: A healthcare professional prepares a dose of AstraZeneca (COVID-19) vaccine at the Narok County Referral Hospital, in Narok, Kenya, December 1, 2021.

Project Last Mile helped support the COVID-19 vaccine rollout across Africa. Image: Reuters/Baz Ratner

James Quincey
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Coca-Cola Company
Peter Sands
Executive Director, Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GF)
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Public, private and civil society partnerships have the potential to make a direct and positive impact on the wellbeing of millions of people.
  • Bringing more sectors together to help tackle existing diseases will support better responses to new pandemics.
  • Forming unlikely partnerships can create solutions to the most complex issues of our day.

About 10 years ago, the Global Fund faced a challenge. In some of the remotest parts of Africa, many people were being left behind, unable to access medicines they desperately needed. Punishing terrain often stood in the way.

And yet, in most of these places, the private sector was able to get their products, including consumer goods,to these locations. Thus emerged a puzzle: how could the private sector’s supply chain and distribution know-how help the public sector ensure medicines reach those in the “last mile”?

Project Last Mile has three main aims
How a multi-sector partnership model of knowledge exchange can have social impact. Image: Project Last Mile for The Global Fund

Coca-Cola leaned in, sharing its supply chain and distribution knowledge with the Global Fund, and an initiative was born – aptly called Project Last Mile.

In many ways, our worlds couldn’t be more different – the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and The Coca-Cola Company. But in seeking to solve this challenge, we were on the same page.

Today, facing a myriad of new and ongoing challenges, we need the collective power of public, private and civil society partnerships more than ever.

Strength in collective ownership

Working in partnership with local governments, Project Last Mile has delivered 35 projects across 12 African countries, reaching more than 35 million people. This includes, over recent years, support for COVID-19 response initiatives and vaccine rollouts.

The strength of our approach lies in the fact that our project is collectively owned and driven by all partners. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been a driving force from the very start.

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Since 2014, The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and later The United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) have played a significant role in developing Project Last Mile, providing funding and strategic input for scaling Project Last Mile models across the African continent. Each partner brings to the table their core competencies and strengths to address complex issues.

In South Africa, Project Last Mile worked with the National Department of Health to design and operationalize a dispensing and distribution system for chronic medication, including HIV drugs, that now includes 2,800 pickup points.

When COVID-19 struck, Project Last Mile helped accelerate the distribution of vaccines across the continent. In Eswatini, it supported the Ministry of Health in developing and executing their cold chain storage plan for 1.5 million vaccine doses.

Project Last Mile has helped ministries of health to raise awareness about safety measures such as hand washing and social distancing, and drive demand for vaccines through public awareness campaigns targeting people living with HIV who are vulnerable to the pandemic. These campaigns have reached more than 30 million people.

In the fight against diseases as formidable as these, no one is truly safe until everyone is safe. While we have made significant progress, a new scale of public, private and civil society engagement is needed if we are going to accelerate efforts to end AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as public health threats by 2030, and better prepare the world for future pandemics.

Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, continuing to fight this pandemic and improving our preparedness for future pandemics requires us to better mobilize every resource, every capability and every asset across all sectors. We are determined and steadfast in our mission and welcome partnerships from diverse industries.

Project Last Mile is an approach to replicate

We believe that Project Last Mile is a model of engagement that can be replicated and scaled in other sectors, for example in data analytics, digital systems and behaviour change.

In the current context, it is abundantly clear that we need new and innovative kinds of partnerships and commitments from diverse sectors to address the complex issues of our day.

As we gather in Davos to celebrate 10 years of partnership and the launch of the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment, we are reminded of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting theme, ‘History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Business Strategies’.


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We hope others will be inspired to build partnerships and platforms with unlikely alliances and be open to sharing funding or capacities from one industry to another.

Every organization, in every sector, has its expertise. What is yours – and how will you contribute?

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