Foreign Policy Blogs

Public-Private Partnerships for Health

I just watched a video at about the global USAID healthcare project, Private Sector Partnerships (PSP-One). This video is about 15 minutes long (I didn't time it, though) and is pretty clearly a PR piece meant to calm fears about public-private partnerships, but does an overall fair job presenting the issues.

Two thoughts:
– If it has a thesis, it seems to be that NGOs and governments should get over their habitual anti-profit mentality. One speaker notes a common reaction to public-private partnerships that says “yes, we’ll work with private companies, but not if there is anything in it for them.”

I agree with the video's argument, but I don't think it is possible to convince the other side. It seems more like a question of worldview. Some people believe that foreign aid should be charitable, and that profit motive is counter the charitable impulse. I don't think this worldview is centered in judging the effectiveness of programs – or at least that isn't the overriding priority for them.

– One problem I have with the video is that it confuses a few types of private sector involvement that I see as separate:

1) Private companies producing public health commodities for the use of people in poor countries and marketing them independently.

2) The same thing – only instead of doing their own marketing, private companies sell their products to aid agencies.

3) Private healthcare providers taking over public health responsibilities.

4) Non-health related international companies giving money for CSR.

All of these can potentially be public-private partnerships, but they give completely different responsibilities and risks to the public and private parties. They also entail different moral hazards. The first item on the list is relatively uncontroversial, but numbers 3 and 4 can be dicey (not bad, just trickier). It's important to be clear which we’re talking about.



Kevin Dean

Kevin Dean is a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in international conflict management and humanitarian emergencies at Georgetown University. Before returning to school in Fall 2006, he spent six years working in the former Soviet Union - most of that time spent in Central Asia. He has managed a diverse range of international development programs for the US State Department and USAID. He has also consulted for several UN agencies and international NGOs, and is fluent in Russian. Kevin is originally from Des Moines, Iowa and studied Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of Iowa.