By: Jon Pender | Vice President, Government Affairs at GlaxoSmithKline | September 24th, 2015

A community health worker checks for symptoms of malaria in a young girl in Ghana. (Photo: GSK)

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the UN Summit in New York this week marks a key milestone for those working to improve global health. It provides an opportunity to reflect on the major progress in health that has been achieved over the past 15 years—especially in the areas of childhood mortality, HIV/AIDS, and malaria. But it also highlights the key challenges that remain, for example around non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer and heart disease, and achieving universal health coverage. The progress that has been achieved is still fragile and many health systems remain vulnerable as so tragically demonstrated by the impact of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

As a science-led global healthcare company, GSK’s mission is to improve the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better, and live longer. We strive to achieve both innovation and access by investing in the development of new medicines and vaccines and pursuing collaborative partnerships to ensure they reach the millions of people around the world who need them, regardless of where they live, or their ability to pay.

Health is explicitly included as the third 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 of the new 17 global goals is focused on a different issue, such as poverty, hunger, education, sanitation, gender equality and economic prosperity, it is important to recognize that health underpins almost every development theme and SDG, each of which enable – or is enabled—by advances in population health. So, as the development agenda expands under the SDGs, now is the time to increase the focus on health.

Acknowledging that many of the goals overlap and are interdependent in nature, we are aware of the strong links between climate and health. One immediate impact of climate change is the inevitable exacerbation of existing health problems. Another is the way disease patterns will be altered and new illnesses will affect unprotected communities, requiring greater stockpiling of medicines and vaccines for use in pandemic situations. Equally, more frequent extreme weather events will also require more provision for disaster relief and the need for business supply chains and distribution networks to be robust enough to withstand such disruption.

By their very nature, the SDGs will present tough and ambitious global targets. But as the ‘what’ is agreed, collective action must turn to ‘how’ they might be achieved. The global debate will now turn into local Member State discussions around implementation. We believe business has an essential part to play in meeting these goals—indeed without it the ambition is unlikely to be fully realized. With this in mind, willingness among all actors to collaborate, innovate, and focus on solutions is going to be essential.

For its part, GSK is fully committed to realizing this new holistic development agenda in a way that meets the shared goals of industry, government, and others. But we firmly recognize that the SDGs will only be met if we can work together in cross-sector collaborative partnerships.

So, it will be great to see this set of new global goals - that will be applicable to everyone, everywhere—agreed. Then comes the hard part: collaborating between the right organizations and people, at the right time in the right places to achieve them.

Here are three examples of how GSK’s work is already supporting the SDGs:

Supporting health workers in Least Developed Countries (LDCs), 5 years on

Strengthening health systems and increasing access to healthcare are part of GSK’s commitment to delivering its responsible business model in the world’s poorest countries. The reinvestment of 20% of our profits from sales in LDCs helps us play our part in generating sustainable economic development. The primary focus of this reinvestment program is to improve the healthcare infrastructure in those countries through the training of frontline, health workers, who are vital to ensuring people even in the most remote areas can access the care and treatment they need.

To date £21 million of LDC profits have been re-invested across 35 countries. This has enabled the training of 40,000 frontline health workers to reach some 11 million people. Key to the success of the program is the local expertise of our three non-governmental organization (NGO) partners—Save the Children in West and Central Africa, Yemen and Haiti Amref Health Africa and CARE International in Asia, who work with country ministries of health to deliver the program on the ground. In 2014 we committed to expanding the program to non-LDCs in sub-Saharan Africa and aim to have a program in every country by the end of 2016.


30-year journey to develop a potential Malaria vaccine

Developing countries have a pressing need for new tools for the fight against malaria, yet they are the very countries that can least afford to pay for them. Following over 30 years of research, GSK’s malaria candidate vaccine, Mosquirix (TM) (RTS,S) has received a positive opinion from European regulators for the prevention of malaria in young children in sub-Saharan Africa. GSK has committed to a not-for-profit price for RTS,S so that, if approved, the price of RTS,S would cover the cost of manufacturing together with a small return of around five percent that will be reinvested in research and development for second-generation malaria vaccines, or vaccines against other neglected tropical diseases. The World Health Organization (WHO) is assessing how the world’s first malaria vaccine candidate might be used alongside other tools to prevent malaria.


Answering the Ebola outbreak

2014 saw a critical public health emergency with the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, killing over 10,000 people. GSK was one of the first organizations to respond; providing humanitarian support to affected regions and accelerating the development of our Ebola candidate vaccine. Due to well-established relationships and good communications with NGO partners including Save the Children (STC), Direct Relief, and AmeriCares, GSK was able to respond quickly, facilitating the provision of basic medical supplies and equipment on the ground in the affected countries.

We also formed an unprecedented international consortium including the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to accelerate the development of our Ebola candidate vaccine. Our support enabled Save the Children and our other partners to reach 870,000 people across Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone with medical treatment and education/awareness programs; helping people understand how to prevent the disease. Some of the lessons learned from that time have informed and deepened GSK’s and our partners’ ability to respond to unprecedented humanitarian disasters and the need for continued investment in improving weak healthcare systems. 

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