Health did not feature prominently on the official agenda of the 2018 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2018, yet, global health issues were discussed at a range of meetings at the Forum. The Annual Meeting, entitled “Creating a shared future in a fractured world”, hosted the launching of various different global health initiatives and partnerships. In earlier years, multiple initiatives including Gavi and CEPI have been announced at Davos, and hence, this venue seems to become popular to galvanise support and funds for new partnerships, including in global health.
A new partnership between Last Mile Health and Living Goods wants to increase the training of community health workers and equipping them with innovative technology for basic diagnosis, referral to doctors and tracking pregnancies in rural communities. This collaboration was also seeking to top up their funding during the Annual Meeting allowing the expansion of their existing work from Liberia to three other African countries.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which itself was launched at Davos in 2000, was announced this year to become the first international non-profit organisation to partner with WEF’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. WEF’s President Klaus Schwab describes the fourth industrial revolution as an opportunity to shape the future by using emerging technologies to put “people first, empowering them and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people”. Gavi will participate in the Center’s collaboration in emerging technologies for various uses, including delivery of drugs and precision medicine. The Gavi CEO Seth Berkley says: “We believe the Fourth Industrial Revolution can help us overcome some of the challenges preventing us from reaching every child.”
The Global Fund and other partners, including The Coca-Cola Company, Standard Bank, Unilever and ViiV Healthcare, launched HER - HIV Epidemic Response, which will build private sector support for programmes addressing HIV among women and girls in 13 African countries. Private sector partners contribute financially to the programme, and can also support young women and adolescent girls living with or at risk of HIV by offering in-kind expertise to new approaches and innovative programmes tailored to respond to their specific needs. This partnership, and the Heineken Partnership that was announced at the WEF as well, has increasingly come under scrutiny by public health experts and NGOs.
Mental health and malaria were among the specific health topics which the WEF Annual Meeting agenda featured. During the panel discussion on mental health, the economic costs of the lack of treatment, stigma and the persistent separation of mental and physical health were highlighted. The culture of silence, together with widespread undermining of the impact of mental health to overall well-being and productivity of individuals, was seen as a threat to the global economy. In a similar vein, the malaria discussion was dominated by the economic benefits and the “best-buy” nature of investing in malaria elimination efforts. It is estimated that a 50% reduction in global malaria incidence could produce a 36-time benefit for each dollar invested. Linked to this debate, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a new partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank and The Carlos Slim Foundation to assist the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic to eliminate malaria for good.
Global health organisations seem to increasingly engage with the business sector. Partnerships remain important in the currently fractured world, yet, accountability and transparency are of equal importance to ensure that health values are not eroded in the search for economic interests.