Sharing the Responsibility

Partnerships, not partisanship, is the key to combating non-communicable diseases.


The Burrill Report

“There must be partnerships rather than partisanship.”
Recently I attended the Washington Post’s event on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), “Sharing the Responsibility.” The event, co-sponsored by Eli Lilly, featured speaker after speaker returning to the point that cooperation between public and private entities is crucial.

For a change, the discussion of NCDs wasn’t framed as a battle between “good guys” and “bad guys.” Rather than being about placing blame, it was about developing solutions. This position was stated early and eloquently by the event’s opening speaker, Julio Frank, dean of the faculty at the Harvard School of Public Health and the key founding father of the Mexican healthcare system. Frank warned that we must avoid and beware “reductionist solutions.”

When asked about intellectual property rights and their role in addressing the NCD issue, Frank said that protecting intellectual property rights is crucial to developing new and innovative global healthcare solutions.
This concept of “shared responsibility” issues many challenges—not the least of which goes out to the Civil Society movement, which demonizes just about any role for industry—except maybe writing checks. “Shared responsibility,” means they must cease repeating the falsehood that the majority of the developing world’s healthcare problems could be solved if only we would do away with patents and intellectual property protection.

During a panel on public and private partnerships, Herb Riband, vice president of external affairs for Medtronic, spoke about a “confluence of interests.” And John Lechleiter, president and CEO, Eli Lilly, commented that, “There is no substitute for the power of partnership.”

Lilly is putting its money where its mouth is. A day before The Washington Post event, Lilly announced a five-year, $30 million commitment to fight the rising burden of non-communicable diseases in developing nations. Lily’s effort combines the company’s resources with the expertise of leading global health organizations, to identify new models of patient care that increase treatment access and improve outcomes for underserved people.

As Mark Kramer, senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Business, said, a key role for private industry is to “broker partnerships that propel progress.”

David Brown, a Washington Post journalist and physician, commented that we must avoid the “false dichotomies” of NCDs (infectious vs. non-infectious, cure vs. prevention, rich vs. poor). So too must we avoid the false dichotomy of “hero vs. villain.”

The Washington Post conference, held in advance of the upcoming historic United Nation’s High Level Meeting on NCDs, made it abundantly clear that, to actively, aggressively, and creatively fight NCDs in the developing world (and, for that matter, the whole world), there must be partnerships rather than partisanship.

The common ground is shared responsibility.

Peter J. Pitts, a former FDA Associate Commissioner, is President of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

September 15, 2011