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Building Capacity

New business models for global health sustainability

It’s the hot ticket this time of year.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland attracts the world’s business executives, government leaders, celebrities, philanthropists, activists and even non-profit leaders. In recent years, there’s been an increasing focus on public-private partnerships.

WEF kicked off this week with a major partnership announcement — a $5 million Ebola vaccine deal between the non-profit GAVI and pharmaceutical company Merck. The agreement involves Merck keeping a sizable amount of vaccines ready for use in emergency or clinical trials and licensing the vaccine so GAVI can have a much-needed stockpile.

Developing vaccines and drugs is incredibly expensive. Pharmaceutical companies recoup R&D costs when they sell their products. If the market is not large enough to sell a product, a pharmaceutical company won’t create it (most, not all of the time of course, many of our non-profit members focus on doing just that).

GAVI’s guaranteed purchase of the Ebola vaccine means Merck doesn’t need to worry about the market, they just need to worry about developing the vaccine. In essence, GAVI is picking up the tab on behalf of those who wouldn’t have been able to pick it up in the first place.

The advanced market commitment in the GAVI-Merck partnership is one relatively new way of thinking about sustainable global health solutions.

Sustainability is top-of mind for many global health leaders

In 2015, I interviewed leaders in the Washington global health community and noticed a trend in their responses. To continue the positive forward motion in global health, organizations must sustain themselves through partnerships and new ways of doing business.

And I can see why.

Global health organizations are beholden to the priorities of funders and grant cycles tend to last 3-5 years, which can disrupt significant progress.

To be clear, I believe that funders have the right to determine their own priorities and time frames, but adding new sources of more adaptable funding is needed to continue taking the kinds of risks associated with innovation.

The leaders almost-unanimously envisioned a future less dependent on grants and more focused on exploring how to develop new and more sustainable partnerships like the one between non-profit PATH and outdoor retailer MSR Global Health.

Successful business engagement in global health

Devex profiled the partnership of two Washington-based organizations, MSR Global Health and PATH, who developed a device that uses salt, water, and a power source to create a chlorine solution that can be used to disinfect 200 liters of water in five minutes.

And MSR Global Health isn’t the only Seattle business engaged in global health. See this Seattle Business Magazine Op Ed from biotech Kineta.

More complex problems require mix of traditional and new funding

Of course this doesn’t mean organizations won’t still need grants and individual gifts. They will.

But as Mark Dybull, Executive Director of the Global Fund, said in a blog last week, “Achieving impact in the last decade was relatively easy because the need was so great – almost anything you did had impact. However, the next stage of ending the epidemics involves confronting social and cultural issues. Our investments with increasing demand for more complex product design and program planning have to be more focused, nuanced and interwoven.”

I believe our global health community will grow stronger as a result of this focus on new business models. As new models and partnerships are tested, the global health community will learn a great deal about how to most effectively and efficiently advance health equity which ensures more announcements like the Merck-GAVI Ebola partnership will be made at Davos for many years to come, and millions of people most in need will be the winners.

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