How is private sector innovation shaping the response to the three diseases during COVID-19?

Ian MatthewsNews

Much of the progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria is in peril due to the knock-on effects of COVID-19, and private sector innovation in prevention, diagnostics, treatment and delivery is vital in reinvigorating the response to the three diseases across the globe, and to fighting the pandemic. 

GBCHealth and Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Friends) convened an expert discussion earlier this month about developing and scaling new tools in the fight against the three diseases and emerging pandemics. Panelists also discussed the impact of COVID-19 on the three diseases, and why the global health community must continue to remain committed to innovation to address the pandemic.

The panel discussion, moderated by Mark P. Lagon, Chief Policy Officer of Friends, featured expert speakers from the private sector:

  • Philippe Jacon, Senior Vice-President, Global Access, Cepheid
  • Michael Joos, CEO, Vestergaard
  • Helen McDowell, Head of Government Affairs & Global Public Health, ViiV Healthcare
  • Zeda Rosenberg, Founder and CEO, International Partnership on Microbicides

Panelists highlighted innovations that address COVID-19 as well as the three diseases, featuring examples such as Cepheid’s highly adaptable GeneXpert System, applicable to TB and COVID-19; Vestergaard’s long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) for malaria prevention; innovative HIV treatments from ViiV Healthcare, including those that address gaps in pediatric HIV care; and the dapivirine vaginal ring, a revolutionary new tool in development from the International Partnership on Microbicides (IPM) used to prevent HIV in adolescent girls and young women.

“From the development of cutting-edge health technologies to new mechanisms for service delivery, innovation is critical to achieving impact against AIDS, TB and malaria,” said Nancy Wildfeir-Field, President of GBCHealth in her opening remarks. “The private sector has a significant role to play in this effort… especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Innovation drives impact, and allows programs to achieve the best value for money.”

Speakers also called attention to the importance of private sector engagement in the work of the Global Fund – one of the largest multilateral investors in grants for health systems, mobilizing and investing more than USD 4 billion to support programs run by local experts in more than 100 countries – which has long been involved in scaling up new innovations as an integral part of its work fighting the three diseases.

“The need for innovation is ongoing… We need to think not only about innovation in products, but in supply chain and delivery, and in how we partner with each other,” said Chris Collins, President and CEO of Friends, during his closing remarks. “Sometimes innovation is inhibited by the fact that the market is perceived as limited, so advance purchase commitments by groups like the Global Fund and others are absolutely critical.”

One form of innovation that is crucial to intervention implementation is using technology and data to improve efficiency. “The Global Fund helps us distribute 220 million bed nets every year; however, up to 43% of these bed nets are not used every single day,” said Michael Joos, CEO of Vestergaard. “We have saved 7 million lives with bed nets alone in the last 10-15 years; how many more could we save if they were effectively used and used more often? … This is an area where technology can help.”

Panelists also highlighted the Global Fund’s vital role in distributing and scaling up innovative interventions, and providing access to the most vulnerable and marginalized. “All this innovation is great, but ultimately it’s no good if it is not available and cannot be delivered to the people,” said Helen McDowell, Head of Government Affairs & Global Public Health, ViiV Healthcare. “That is where it’s really critical for us to work in partnership, particularly with groups like the Global Fund who have the ability to scale some of these interventions.”

Panelists also discussed how to fight the three diseases amid challenges imposed by the pandemic, and the Global Fund’s role facilitating these efforts. “We currently have more than 12,000 GeneXpert Systems deployed in LMICs, and most of them have been procured by the Global Fund,” said Philippe Jacon, Senior Vice-President, Global Access, Cepheid. “In the first nine months of this year we’ve delivered more TB tests than in the first nine months of any previous year, and all of that has been happening in large part thanks to the funding coming from the Global Fund.”

Furthermore, speakers highlighted innovative efforts in public/private and community partnerships, emphasizing their importance in combating COVID-19 as well as the three diseases. “Without all of the donors and partnerships with academia and industry over the years, there is no way we would have achieved what we have achieved,” said Zeda Rosenberg, Founder and CEO of IPM. “You cannot carry off these programs and design products that will be used by people without the communities at the forefront of the effort. These are the innovations that we need to think about.”

A full recording of the event is available here, and a report encapsulating the key takeaways from the event will be available in the coming weeks. For more on this discussion and for future events from Friends and GBCHealth, check the Friends website and make sure you are signed up for the GBCHealth newsletter.

Friends and GBCHealth are non-profit organizations that support the work of the Global Fund through advocacy and governance capacities, respectively. Friends advocates for ending the three epidemics through U.S. investment in the Global Fund and other global health programs, partnering with civil society, faith-based, and business partners, while GBCHealth serves as the Focal Point to the Private Sector Constituency (PSC) on the Global Fund Board. The PSC is a group of companies that brings the business voice to the Global Fund and helps shape the strategy of the leading funding agency in global health. The PSC recently hosted a related webinar, in partnership with GBCHealth and the Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa (CAMA), on how the private sector is Reimagining Commitment to Fighting HIV, TB and Malaria During COVID-19.

Ian MatthewsHow is private sector innovation shaping the response to the three diseases during COVID-19?