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Sharing Japan's Vision for global health

By Mandeep Dhaliwal and BT Slingsby On 10 Sep 2016 Read 733

Last year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The agenda includes 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) focused on ending poverty and hunger, achieving gender equality and improving global health -- among many other objectives aimed at enhancing the health and well-being of our planet and its people.

In terms of health, among the targets of SDG 3 is ending the epidemics of tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases by 2030. To achieve this, SDG 3 underlines the need for research and development on new medicines, vaccines and diagnostics, in recognition of the fact that many treatments for neglected diseases are outdated and ineffective. SDG 3 also underscores the importance of strengthening health systems in order to provide universal health coverage and access to medicines, vaccines and diagnostics.

Poor health caused by communicable diseases is disproportionately concentrated among impoverished communities and marginalized populations, where the legacy of these preventable diseases can be devastating and fatal due to a lack of available or affordable treatment. Despite advances over the past 15 years, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases continue to exert a huge health burden in the Southeast Asia and Western Pacific regions. There were 5.6 million new cases of tuberculosis and 548,000 tuberculosis-related deaths in the regions in 2014. Only about half of the estimated 70,000 people with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis have access to appropriate treatment. Another concern is the increasing rates of treatment failure for malaria, which are being reported across the region. More than a billion people are also at risk of the most common neglected tropical diseases in the region, namely dengue, intestinal worms and elephantiasis.

In light of this, the government of Japan, driven by its rightful conviction that health is an indispensable component of human development, peace and security as outlined in the G-7 Ise-Shima Vision for Global Health, has built an innovative partnership with the United Nations Development Programme to lead the way in combating tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases through increased investment in discovery, development and delivery of new health technologies.

Japan and UNDP, in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and a consortium of pharmaceutical companies, collectively contribute to the Global Health Innovative Technology (GHIT) Fund. An independent public-private partnership, aimed at stimulating product development using Japanese innovation for tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases, the fund represents a new model for advancing global health research and development. Unlike sovereign funds or philanthropic foundations, the GHIT Fund sources all funding from outside capital. It operates in a similar vein as a venture capital or private equity fund, but in the public domain as a public benefit corporation registered with the cabinet office of the Japanese government.

Access and Delivery Partnership

The partnership between Japan and UNDP includes another essential and innovative component. The Access and Delivery Partnership (ADP), which brings together UNDP, the World Health Organization through the Special Programme on Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, and the nongovernmental organization PATH, supports low- and middle-income countries in strengthening health systems so that the innovations developed with support from the GHIT Fund and others can actually reach populations in need.

For example, in Tanzania, the fund is supporting the development of pediatric praziquantel, a medicine to treat schistosomiasis in infants and preschool children, using Japanese pharmaceutical technology to improve drug compliance and functionality. At the same time, the ADP works to support the strengthening of the government's large-scale campaign to distribute preventive chemotherapy for schistosomiasis. This is a vital measure, given that only 27% of the 10.8 million people in Tanzania who require preventive chemotherapy for schistosomiasis received it in 2014. In another example, the GHIT Fund is supporting the development of a novel booster tuberculosis vaccine (DAR-901), currently undergoing phase II clinical trials in Tanzania, while the ADP works closely with the government to enhance health system capacities -- from selection to drug safety monitoring, supply chain management and mass treatment administration -- so that when new vaccines such as this become available, they can be effectively introduced and scaled-up in the country.

This integrated approach is also being adopted in the Asia-Pacific region. In Indonesia, the ADP is supporting the establishment of national pharmacovigilance systems to enable the introduction of bedaquiline, a new treatment for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Alongside this effort, the ADP is also working on improving capacities to better plan, procure and distribute tuberculosis commodities that will help more than 700 public hospitals across the country deal with a major public health threat.

By catalyzing product development and safeguarding sustainable access and equitable delivery in low- and middle-income countries, the GHIT Fund and the ADP are adopting an integrated approach that seeks to address bottlenecks within the health system. A health system that can readily and efficiently access and deliver health technologies not only contributes to disease elimination, but also to the sustainability of universal health coverage and a more effective response to public health emergencies, such as those caused by recent outbreaks of the Zika and Ebola viruses.

As nations convene in Kobe, Japan, on Sept. 11-12 for the G-7 Health Ministers' Meeting to exchange views and forge consensus on a range of global health issues, we commend Japan's leadership, vision and commitment to investing in innovation, access and new health technology.

Both SDG 3 and the G-7 Ise-Shima Vision for Global Health explicitly acknowledge the need for the development of, and access to, new health technologies for neglected diseases, which we believe can be achieved through the integrated approach demonstrated by the GHIT Fund and the ADP. As part of their G-7 and SDG commitments related to global health, we believe that governments must continue to scale up their investments in promoting not only innovation in new treatments, vaccines and diagnostics, but also the building of resilient and sustainable health systems in low- and middle-income countries, so that universal health coverage and good health and well-being can be attained for all.

Mandeep Dhaliwal is the director of the HIV, Health and Development Group at the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support in the United Nations Development Programme. BT Slingsby is the CEO and executive director of the Global Health Innovative Technology (GHIT) Fund.


This news story was originally published by Nikkei Asian Review on 10 September 2016: http://asia.nikkei.com/Viewpoints/Viewpoints/Dhaliwal-and-Slingsby-Sharing-Japan-s-vision-for-global-health