Businesses must become partners in global development

Businesses will be key to achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals, writes GSK’s Clare Griffin – but only if they are open to collaboration, says GSK CSR head Clare Griffin.

baby vaccination
A newborn baby receives a vaccination in New Zealand. Health is one of the key focus areas of the sustainable development goals. Image: ChameleonsEye /

More businesses are recognising that to play their part in addressing global challenges, they need to harness innovation and be open to collaboration. For a science-led global healthcare company like GSK with a mission to help people do more, feel better and live longer, we have a particular opportunity to take a significant role in addressing global health burdens.

And this is nothing new for us. We have a long history in both developing and developed countries. For example, our vaccines are included in immunisation campaigns in 170 countries worldwide and of the 800 million vaccine doses we delivered in 2014, just over 80 per cent were shipped for use in developing countries.

But we have big ambitions, particularly for the poorest. In March 2014 we announced our strategy to increase access to healthcare and deliver long-term economic growth across Africa, by stimulating research, increasing capacity in local medicine supply, and strengthening healthcare infrastructure. Our vision is to make GSK products available to 80 per cent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa and Least Developed Countries by 2020.

So, we wait with eager anticipation for the incoming Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), currently under consultation. Right now, number three seems to be the one health-specific goal, “ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages”. It is underpinned by targets that cover a wide range of health issues from maternal and child health to environmental health. Although each SDG is focused on a different issue, many are suggesting that health is actually indirectly or directly represented in every SDG.

If they are proven right, the outcome of these consultations could be highly significant for us in the healthcare sector. By their very nature, the SDGs will present tough and ambitious global targets. But once the ‘what’ is agreed, the debate will turn to ‘how’ they might be achieved. If business is to be part of tackling these goals, collaboration and innovation are going to be essential.

Collaboration through partnership

But once the ‘what’ is agreed, the debate will turn to ‘how’ they might be achieved. If business is to be part of tackling these goals, collaboration and innovation are going to be essential.

John Smith

Our current five-year partnership with Save the Children, which started in May 2013, is one case in point. It was set up to help save the lives of one million children living in the poorest countries in Africa. The partnership combines the resources, capabilities and reach of our two organisations to help improve access to healthcare for some of the world’s poorest children, to train thousands of healthcare workers, and to explore solutions to help alleviate child malnutrition. The partnership has also evolved to include work to improve the wellbeing of children after humanitarian disasters.

We are also partnering with Save the Children, alongside Amref Health Africa, the One Million Community Health Workers Campaign and local governments to support the training of frontline health workers in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria. Our investment of £5.85 million over the next three years will train 9,000 health workers.

The new initiative builds on existing partnerships that have supported the training of 25,000 health workers, reaching 6.5 million people. The programme aims to strengthen health systems by enabling staff to manage the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases, as well as to combat infectious illnesses and improve maternal and child health. Alongside training, GSK’s investment is designed to support community health education and advocacy to help ensure the programmes have a long-term, sustainable impact.

Innovation through partnership

Accelerating research into treatments for diseases that impact the poorest is also important – and again, collaboration is key. Back in 2009 we opened up our innovation process for diseases of the developing world. Our approach is based on three principles; access to our compounds and data, greater flexibility on intellectual property, and partnerships to share our expertise, processes and infrastructure.

Our Tres Cantos campus in Spain allows GSK researchers to work on diseases of the developing world more collaboratively with scientists from universities, not-for-profit partnerships and other research institutes.

In 2010, the first success in opening up access to our compounds was realised when over 13,500 promising potential ‘hits’ useful to stimulate drug discovery research for malaria were published in the journal Nature.

Claiming 75 per cent of all lives, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems, kidney disease, and diabetes are the world’s biggest killers, with a growing burden on poorer nations. We are now extending our open innovation approach by investing £25m to create the world’s first Open Lab in Africa where GSK scientists and external researchers will work together to improve understanding of NCD variations in African patients.

In all such cases, partnerships, collaboration and openness are needed to accelerate progress in such vital areas of research.

This year, a set of universal goals and targets will be released in the form of the SDGs. For sure, they will represent global challenges. But to meet these challenges, businesses must embrace deep and innovative collaboration if we are to make the step changes so urgently needed.

Clare Griffin is Head of Corporate Responsibility and Corporate Reporting at pharmaceutical, vaccine and consumer healthcare company GSK.

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