The Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development, the philanthropic arm of Novartis, held a symposium on Dec. 2, 2010, which focused on the progress and steps ahead required for achieving the United Nations (UN) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight goals to help alleviate poverty and improve economic and social development in the developing world. The symposium continued the dialogue that started at the Millennium Summit, which took place in New York in September 2010. More than 500 representatives from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the private sector, universities, and international organizations took part in the symposium, according to a Dec. 16, 2010, Novartis press release.
Assessing progress in achieving MDGs
The UN MDGs were adopted in 2000 by 189 UN member states. The MDGs consist of eight major objectives, targeted to be met by 2015, which require the participation of developed and developing nations and entail time-bound targets for addressing extreme poverty, hunger and disease, gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability.They also express basic human rights: the rights of everyone to good health, education, and shelter. The eighth goal, to build a global partnership for development, includes commitments in development assistance, debt relief, trade, and access to technologies. Specifically, the MDGs are: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development, The summit held in September 2010 reviewed the progress, assessed obstacles and gaps, and discussed strategies and actions to help meet the MDGs by the target date of 2015.
At the Novartis symposium held in December 2010, Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Novartis, stressed that the healthcare industry is committed to providing solutions to global challenges. In the case of Novartis, specifically, this commitment is focused on improving access to healthcare, which includes the donation of leprosy drugs, the delivery of anti-malarial treatments at no profit as well as pro-bono neglected disease research. He also mentioned a pilot project in Tanzania to monitor stock levels of antimalaria drugs in public-health facilities by using text messaging as a way to prevent supply shortages and improve access to medicines.
Novartis issued a report, “Achieving the UN Development Goals: The Contribution of Novartis,” to outlined the efforts by the company in achieving the MDGs, particularly as they relate to improving access to healthcare, Novartis noted that through its access-to medicine programs, valued at $1.5 billion, it has supplied medicines to people in developing and developed nations. Approximately 94% of program beneficiaries are malaria patients, which gain access to the company’s antimalaria drug, Coartem, which consists of the active ingredients, artemether, an artemisinin derivative, and lumefantrine.
In addition to improving access to malaria treatments, the company has access-to-medicines initiatives for treatments for tuberculosis and liver fluke. In India, the company uses a social-business model, Arogya Parivar, which aims to improve access through healthcare through a network of community-health educators, mainly women, who help to promote disease awareness among villagers. The program also engages rural practioners to encourage compliance, and Novartis also makes select generic drugs and over-the-counter medicines, particularly those that target child and maternal health, available to rural pharmacies. In addition, through the Novartis Institutes for Developing World Medical Research, the company conducts pro bono research for treatments for malaria, tuberculosis, dengue fever, and diarrheal disease.
Others highlight need for achieving MDGs
Other speakers at the Novartis symposium addressed the progress and work needed to achieve the UN MDGs. Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at New York’s Columbia University and special advisor to the UN Secretary-General, said the MDGs would be achievable only if the governments that had adopted them 10 years ago honored their pledges. He pointed out that wealthier countries, such as the US, Japan, and Switzerland, were setting aside far less than the 0.7% of their economic output originally agreed for development cooperation. Overall, he cited the need to improve investment in infrastructure, elementary schools, and secondary schools, particularly for girls. In healthcare, he pointed to the importance of training healthcare workers, increasing emergency obstetric care, and committing more financial resources for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He also mentioned the lack of money to fund climate adaptation and improve water supplies.
Salim Abdulla, a specialist in tropical medicines, and Flora L. Kessy, a social research scientist, both from the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania, shared their experiences in reducing child and maternal mortality. Due to improved health services and ongoing education programs, Tanzania should succeed in halving mortality in children under the age of five by 2015. However, success in reducing maternal mortality has not been as great. Although trending downward, the incidence of 450 deaths per 100,000 live births in Tanzania is more than five times higher than the incidence of maternal mortality in European countries. They indicated that the large number of home births without qualified help was the main reason for the slow progress. In addition, Kessy pointed to successful approaches in improving access to healthcare, such as the use of microcredits to support women’s groups, the establishment of small-scale, community-health funds, rapid diagnostic tests, and support for accredited drug-dispensing outlets.
Eveline Herfkens, the former Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands and executive coordinator for the UN Millennium Development Goals Campaign, shared her belief that governments, not charitable institutions, were responsible for funding development. She stressed the importance of having governments of recipient countries decide how to spend money as a means to create ownership and oblige good governance by the recipient country.
Klaus M. Leisinger, president and managing director of the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development, discussed the cooperation between NGOs and private companies. In recent years, he noted that relationships have improved significantly, and both parties have learned to think about the results achieved rather than their individual contributions. In development cooperation as elsewhere, he said that one should look at the return on invested funds, and payments should be linked to the achievement of jointly agreed goals. He advised that NGOs use management methods developed by the private sector. Looking into the future, he said that multinational companies will be increasingly judged by the contribution they are making to solve global problems. Amir Dossal, who was responsible for the UN’s partnerships with private donors, also emphasized the need for more cooperation between the private and public sectors. As an example, he reported that the privately funded UN Foundation currently supports more than 450 projects on women’s and children’s health, climate change, and biodiversity protection.