Foreign Policy Blogs

A Changing Public Health Agenda: Guiding Access to Care


Biopharmaceutical companies have been part of the global public health workforce for decades, tackling infectious diseases and disseminating life-saving drug interventions. In the last several decades, pharmaceutical companies have played an instrumental role in combatting infectious diseases across developing nations, often donating in-kind contributions of vaccinations and treatments to the NGOs and local organizations. Now, as the global public health agenda has reprioritized chronic and non-communicable diseases, pharmaceutical companies are taking on a new role in shaping policies and strengthening healthcare systems to respond to the global shifts in disease burden. In challenging popular attitudes about pharmaceutical operations (particularly in emerging markets), I’d like to introduce a series of blogs, describing how pharmaceutical healthcare partners are making an indelible imprint in the global restructuring of the healthcare blueprint.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and chronic diseases — cancers, heart disease, arthritis, and hypertension, for example — pose a growing public health concern across the globe. With many infectious diseases eradicated- or nearly controlled- we are now thinking of how to cope with the diseases of an aging population. People are living longer with maladies that, not too long ago, would have meant a shortening in life-span. Additionally, as economic development continues, diseases, like obesity and heart disease, are on the rise, globally. As a global community, we must collaborate in approaching these issues, in a partnered and multi-sector fashion.

The distinguishing factor between treating chronic conditions in industrial nations versus in emerging economies is that the healthcare systems face stratifying gaps in allowing access to treatment: treatment that will be required over a patient’s lifetime. Access to medicine is, needless to say, an integral part of a healthcare system, just as much as access to healthcare professionals and services. Therefore, when it comes to strengthening healthcare systems in the developing world, pharmaceutical policies and partnerships are critical in delivering care. Meeting the changing and growing needs of an aging population will mean creating health systems that tackle healthcare financing and service delivery.
It is precisely this aspect — access to care — that pharmaceutical companies have the opportunity to partner with ministries of health, hospitals, and NGOs to create these access channels. For many pharmaceutical companies, their commercial and philanthropic interests are intrinsically consonant with healthcare being treated as a human right.

One organization, working extensively with some of the leading pharmaceutical players, is Business for Social Responsibility (BSR). BSR and some of the pharmaceutical industry leads — Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnsons & Johnson to name a few — have collaborated to create the Guiding Principles on Access to Healthcare, or GPAH. With the goal of increasing access to medicine and care, the GPAH are a set of guiding principles, ratified by leading pharmaceutical signatories, that seek to improve global health outcomes. The framework is established by five guiding principles: Collaboration, Research and Development, Expanding Availability of Healthcare Services, Developing Health System Resources, and Respecting Human Rights.

With the introduction of these principles as a framework, I’d like to introduce a five-part mini-series of blog posts that will demonstrate that rapidly changing needs of the global patient mosaic and how the pharmaceutical industry can, and already is, playing a significant role in meeting these needs. I’ll explore issues of how pharmaceutical companies are partnering across sectors to meet public health needs, while creating a sustainable presence and will explore health system challenges that the industry is tackling: financing, policy, system strengthening, and disease prevention. Leveraging the framework of the healthcare access guiding principles, laid out by BSR and its member signatories, I’ll explore the changing public health needs that the global community faces. The next-and first-of this series will elaborate on this guiding framework and will focus on the guiding principle of collaboration: multisector partnerships to address the evolving needs in population health.



Elyse Lichtenthal

Elyse Lichtenthal recently received a Masters Degree from the University of Chicago in Social Service Administration, with a concentration in Health Administration & Policy. Prior to her graduate academic tenure, Elyse spent time in South Africa, working with mothers2mothers, an NGO that prevents mother-to-child transmission of HIV throughout Southern and Eastern Africa. Combining experiences from the global public health, public policy and political organizing sectors, Elyse contributes to the Humanitarian Affairs section of the FPA Blogs with interests in service delivery models for chronic diseases and international policies surrounding access to treatment. Elyse is currently based in Chicago and is the Program Coordinator for the U.S. Cooperative for International Patients.