Health and Healthcare Systems

A vital new plasma initiative shows how public-private partnerships boost global health

A Belgian student donates plasma.

A Belgian student donates plasma. Image: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

Alex Mejia
Director, Division for People and Social Inclusion, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR)
Giles Platford
President, Plasma-Derived Therapies Business Unit, Takeda
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Global Health

This article is part of: Centre for Health and Healthcare
  • Innovative public-private partnerships are key to addressing global health inequities.
  • Many patients with life-threatening diseases worldwide are facing challenges accessing life-transforming plasma-derived therapies.
  • Multistakeholder partnerships can drive local solutions that address challenges of a globally constrained plasma supply impacting patients.

We face an urgent need for transformative solutions to ensure that everyone, regardless of location or circumstances, has access to equitable healthcare. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed health inequities that exist among and within countries, and it is clear that traditional methods of addressing healthcare system challenges in terms of delivery and access are no longer adequate today. Public-private partnerships offer great potential to reshape the global healthcare landscape and improve patient outcomes.

This type of partnership is embodied by the ongoing collaboration between the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and Takeda, a global biopharmaceutical company. Last year, we announced a joint initiative to strengthen the resilience of health systems to meet patients’ need for plasma and plasma-derived therapies. This initiative focuses on developing local solutions to the global challenge of sustainable plasma supply leading to continuity of care, showcasing how shared goals can lead to transformative outcomes.

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Plasma-derived therapies are critical, life-transforming treatments that can only be produced from human plasma and are used to treat a range of rare and complex conditions like bleeding disorders, primary immunodeficiencies and neuroimmunology diseases, among others. However, global patient need far outpaces available supply. This is largely due to increasing and earlier diagnosis and an inadequate supply of donated plasma due to policies and regulations that lag behind scientific progress. Furthermore, unequal access to vital plasma therapies, especially in low- and middle-income countries, leaves some patients with inadequate treatment and aggravates global health inequity.

The UNITAR-Takeda partnership highlights how public-private partnerships can create more resilient and equitable healthcare systems in three key ways:

  • Uniting diverse stakeholders
  • Focusing on local, tailored solutions to global challenges
  • Embracing the concept of shared value

1. Uniting diverse stakeholders contributes to impactful outcomes

A striking feature of public-private partnerships in global health is the diversity of stakeholders they bring to the table with varying views. Developing practical and impactful solutions around global health equity challenges requires multi-area expertise, resourcing and skill sets from a range of stakeholders and organizations working collaboratively toward a common goal.

The plasma initiative forges connections between governments, patient organizations, academia, healthcare professionals and the private sector within working groups in partner countries. Each stakeholder contributes unique perspectives, knowledge and resources that inform the overall efforts to tackle challenges of plasma supply and patient access in their countries.

To support improved education on the global challenge, UNITAR launched an online knowledge hub, Plasma4Life, for the benefit of these working groups, policy-makers and the general public. Plasma4Life is intended to facilitate access to the latest scientific knowledge, public health data and best practices on plasma and plasma-derived therapies by leveraging the diversity and expertise of knowledge partners.

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2. Focusing on local, tailored solutions supports tackling global challenges

While global health challenges, by definition, have wide-ranging impact around the world, practical solutions are best identified locally to create positive, sustainable solutions for patients. By zeroing in on neglected policy areas, the UNITAR-Takeda initiative empowers partner countries to design tailored solutions that strengthen their healthcare systems and improve local access to plasma and plasma-derived therapies.

In Malaysia, for example, UNITAR is currently supporting local working group members, including policy-makers, patient groups and physicians, to publish a paper about the country’s plasma supply challenges and opportunities. In Argentina, a survey to identify challenges faced by country’s blood and plasma collection centres is being conducted. Such collaborative local efforts can help drive improvements to the global plasma ecosystem with the goal of identifying and easing pressures on an already strained plasma supply.

3. Embracing the concept of shared value aligns societal and business goals

Public-private partnerships can drive sustainable solutions through shared value, a concept that describes the relationship between the private sector and society, identifying areas where societal and economic goals intersect and lead to positive and collective impact. Shared value goes beyond corporate social responsibility by aligning fair business interests with societal needs.

The plasma initiative illustrates how shared value can be realized through innovative collaborations with long-term commitments. Common goals of enabling a sustainable supply of plasma and achieving equitable patient access to plasma-derived therapies align societal and healthcare needs with business imperatives. This creates a sustainable framework to achieve progress toward health equity, benefiting patients now and in the future. Furthermore, this collaborative effort contributes significantly to the achievement of four of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): (3) good health and well-being, (4) quality education, (10) reduced inequalities, and (17) partnerships for the goals.

In this way, our initiative serves as a powerful reminder that the pursuit of global health equity is not only the domain of governments or international organizations. It is a collective endeavour in which the private sector can play a vital role as a knowledge partner, leveraging its resources and expertise to create positive and sustainable change.

Broadening the (public-private) partnership

While our partnership is committed to the long-term continuation of the initiative to improve lives of patients who could benefit from plasma-derived therapies, we also recognize that these types of alliances are most effective when industry is not represented by a single company or weighted to a particular bias. This is why UNITAR is now seeking more funding partners to join, including private companies and public organizations.

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The tangible impact of public-private partnerships in advancing global health equity is undeniable. UNITAR, for example, is involved in several public-private partnerships in different global health areas, especially global surgery, value-based healthcare and breastfeeding. Takeda and UNITAR will continue to share learnings from our collaboration to encourage a broader discussion on the potential of public-private partnerships to develop transformative solutions to global health challenges. We hope that our work can serve as a roadmap and inspiration for other organizations to explore novel approaches that address urgent needs of patients around the world.

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