Davos Agenda

What role can the private sector play in advancing health equity? Business leaders discuss

Advancing health equity will significantly improve global health. Davos 2023

Advancing health equity will significantly improve global health Image: Photo by Soweto Graphics on Unsplash

Kelly McCain
Head, Healthcare Initiatives, World Economic Forum
Ty Greene
Project Lead, Health Equity, World Economic Forum
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • Compounding health, environmental and geopolitical crises have exacerbated existing inequities in health worldwide.
  • Ahead of Davos 2023, where health equity is high on the agenda, we asked six industry leaders how they plan to follow through on their public commitments for advancing health equity through their organization, offerings, community and ecosystem.
  • They also outlined the role they see the broader private sector has in addressing global health equity.

Compounding health, environmental and geopolitical crises have exacerbated existing inequities in health and wellbeing and brought about growing recognition and attention to disparities in health and wellbeing outcomes between and within countries. Children in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, are 14 times more likely to die before the age of five than in the rest of the world. While in India, there is an average difference in life expectancy of 7.5 years between the rich and the poor.

While governments and civil society lead the charge in attempting to tackle global health inequities, multistakeholder action is needed to create lasting change. The case for business involvement goes beyond morality; there is a strong economic incentive for businesses to act, from avoiding worker productivity losses due to absenteeism to supporting local communities to promote a rich environment and value chain for businesses. Additionally, consumer and investor expectations increasingly include social benefits, strengthening long-term enterprise sustainability and the license to operate for those companies prioritising their environment, social and governance (ESG) impact.

In response to this evolving landscape, business leaders are beginning to explore the meaningful impact they can make by embedding health equity at the core of their strategies, operations, investments and reporting structures. The Zero Health Gaps Pledge, a new initiative from the World Economic Forum’s Global Health Equity Network, seeks to galvanise corporate action by aligning public CEO-level commitments towards advancing health equity globally.

During Davos 2023, where health equity is high on the agenda, we asked six industry leaders how they plan to follow through on their public commitments for advancing health equity through their organization, offerings, community and ecosystem. Plus, what role do they see the broader private sector playing in addressing global health equity priorities? Here's what they told us:

'The private sector can and must do more'

Paul Hudson, Chief Executive Officer, Sanofi

"Sanofi is proud to be part of the global mission to advance health equity. Our focus is on closing the trust gap between marginalised communities and healthcare. This matters because no healthcare system can achieve good outcomes if large parts of the population distrust it.

"The private sector can and must do more. We simply haven’t done enough to listen and learn from those who don’t consider us to be on their side.

"Our commitment to closing the healthcare trust gap will see Sanofi launching A Million Conversations, a multi-year initiative. We will advance opportunities for marginalised communities by investing in scholarships, ensuring the people who run our healthcare systems reflect the populations they serve. We will initiate dialogues to give a platform to the people who have been discriminated against, empowering them to tell their stories and secure commitments from healthcare leaders. Finally, we will use research to highlight existing best practice and find new policies to improve trust. Together, this work is designed to rebuild trust and create a more equitable healthcare system worldwide.

"We can’t do this alone, which is why we’re looking forward to working with like-minded organizations in the Global Health Equity Network."

'Half the world’s population lacks access to essential healthcare... We can do better'

Geoff Martha, Chief Executive Officer, Medtronic

"Half the world’s population lacks access to essential healthcare and the deadliest diseases disproportionately impact marginalised populations. We can do better.

"Medtronic is a global leader in healthcare technology and we know technology can be a profound equaliser. We develop revolutionary solutions that put people first and partner with health systems to accelerate patient access to care – transforming the lives of two people every second.

"We’re tackling some of the world’s most challenging health conditions — from heart disease and cancer to diabetes — and leveraging technology to deliver personalised care at scale. By partnering with local health systems, governments and NGOs, together we identify gaps in care to build customised, health equity programmes. Medtronic LABS, an independent nonprofit organization funded by Medtronic, is developing community-based, tech-enabled solutions for marginalised populations, reaching over one million patients to date. We also have established a Health Equity Advisory Committee to harness the power of our global teams around a common goal of eliminating health disparities in the communities we serve.

"But no one solution or organization can achieve this alone. That’s why Medtronic joined the World Economic Forum’s Global Health Equity Network — working together, we can reach more people in more places."

'Drive multi-sector action and improve health outcomes around the world'

Pascal Soriot, Chief Executive Officer, AstraZeneca

“At AstraZeneca, we are committed to ensuring that people have equitable access to innovative healthcare, wherever they live. Our pandemic response reflects how we are taking bold action, with over six million lives saved through our Covid-19 vaccine in the first year of vaccination alone. (Data estimates based on model outcomes from separate analyses conducted by Airfinity and Imperial College, United Kingdom. AstraZeneca Data on File. DoF Ref – 156573, 11 July 2022.)

"We are pleased to be partnering with the Global Health Equity Network to drive multi-sector action and improve health outcomes around the world, including for the most vulnerable populations.”

'The public and private sectors must work together to ensure access to healthcare'

Tarek Sultan, Chief Executive Officer and Vice-Chairman of the Board, Agility

"As a signatory of the Zero Health Gaps Pledge and an industry leader in fair labour, Agility will continue to ensure all 50,000 of our employees across 60 countries who are eligible have appropriate, non-discriminatory healthcare benefits. By removing the stress of access to healthcare, we aim to have a healthy, safe and motivated workforce – a tremendous advantage for any organization. Additionally, we will continue to encourage our suppliers to close healthcare gaps and, where possible, include contract language requesting a commitment to provide non-discriminatory access to healthcare for their workforce and sub-contractors.

"But it’s not enough to focus only on our internal organization. As a global leader in emerging markets, we support vulnerable people in communities where we operate, working with organizations like UNHCR, the Children of War Foundation, Kuwait Society for the Handicapped and the Novick Cardiac Alliance to ensure access to critical health services. And, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, our teams around the world donated logistics services to deliver vaccines, PPE and vital supplies.

"Ultimately, the public and private sectors must work together to ensure access to healthcare. Most medical innovations come from the private sector, but governments can do more to enable private-sector innovation. The private sector should continue to look at investments in health technologies that promote universal access to healthcare through digital screening, with lower costs and better outcomes. Technological change has been called the great equaliser and that holds true when it comes to health equity as well.

'No one company or government can achieve health equity alone'

Albert Bourla, President and Chief Executive Officer, Pfizer

"At Pfizer, equity is a core value that drives us every day because we strongly believe that all people deserve access to high-quality, safe and effective health solutions. Many advances made through science, infrastructure and technology are allowing people to live longer and healthier lives. However, there remain significant disparities between lower-income countries and the rest of the world that must be addressed so all people, regardless of where they live or their income level, have this same opportunity.

"As part of our commitment to address this gap, Pfizer launched An Accord for a Healthier World, a collaborative initiative focused on enabling greater access to healthcare for 1.2 billion people living in 45 lower-income countries. Through the Accord, Pfizer has committed to offering our medicines and vaccines on a not-for-profit basis to these countries and we are working with experts at local and global levels to strengthen and build the resources, capabilities and platforms that can enable sustainable healthcare access, including technical expertise, training, diagnostics, innovative financing and more.

"No one company or government can achieve health equity alone. We are proud to join global leaders with a shared vision and passion for this important endeavour."

'It is our role to help drive this change'

Christophe Weber, CEO, Takeda

“Takeda is proud to be a part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Health Equity Network, where we share a common commitment to prioritise and advance health equity on a global scale.

"Health equity is key to creating a world where everyone, everywhere, has access to the resources and care they need to live their fullest, healthiest life. To solve for the inequities that exist today, we need to be able to address the social determinants of health, including economic stability and education, and ensure that patients who need medicines can access them. While this endeavour is vast, we can all agree on both the moral and business imperative for addressing health inequities. And, as business leaders, it is our role to help drive this change by embedding health equity into every aspect of decision-making.

"As we strive to create a more inclusive and sustainable healthcare ecosystem, Takeda is dedicated to building trust in the communities we serve and we insist on maintaining a holistic view of people’s lives as we make good on our commitment to bring better health and a brighter future to patients.”

To learn more about the Zero Health Gaps Pledge and see a full list of signatories, please visit the Global Health Equity Network website

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