The World Economic Forum's ability to convene the highest operating public and private actors with equal ease is now well established and is evidenced each year at its annual forum in Davos. This niche creates the space for stakeholder engagement in the current global economic environment where global solutions can best be achieved by exploiting public-private synergy.
Such interactions are highly beneficial for the health sector, since there is a genuine need for reaching out to non-state actors in the midst of the many transformations shaping global and domestic health sector public policy.
The World Health Organization's 2010 report has placed Universal Coverage for health, centre stage. However, regulatory policy interventions are needed to achieve that goal in developing country mixed health systems, where private providers are dominant but remain undocumented, fragmented, and unregulated. The private sector also has a major role to play in fuelling technological advancement and Research and Development and can be incentivized for scaling up innovative development and financing models. All these strategies have the potential to overcome barriers to accessing healthcare and promote the twin goals of equity and quality. Developed countries can provide lessons on public stewardship models for private service provision, but a dialogue needs to get going to facilitate experience sharing.
Emerging market countries with increasing numbers of people entering the formally employed sector can create opportunities for private insurance companies capable of underwriting large populations into insurance pools. A change of this nature can help achieve universal coverage. So can the public private partnership model for developing healthcare infrastructure, which can be a viable option in the context of business globalization, and the opening up of markets, but appropriate policy oversight.
Appropriate public investments in health are an imperative. But these can be complemented by private investments, especially for infrastructure building in environments of diminished public budgets, albeit with appropriate safeguards. There is a significant health related investment opportunity in health care provision, retail, pharmaceutical and medical product manufacturing, insurance, social enterprises and medical education. With the right policy safeguards, many initiatives can create public-private resonance--offering commercially viable investment opportunities and models of health entrepreneurship while ensuring public good character.
However, governments require the capacity to tap the private sector's potential, and often sectors other than "health" have to be involved to meet the desired objectives. The case of infrastructure projects in the PPP financing mode is illustrative. They necessitate a transformation of the government's capabilities and governance capacities and can only be put in place with active involvement of Ministries of Finance and international development agencies. However, there are very few forums, where stakeholders reflecting this "whole of government approach" convene.
Last year, a high level UN General Assembly Special Session (UNHLM) put a new public health priority on the table--Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), where the solutions are partly in the hands of the private sector anyway. In fact, the UNHLM's Political Declaration has many covenants that called directly for action from the private sector.
Of course there are legitimate concerns around the role of the private sector in health, which underscore the need for building safeguards against any measure that can undermine the equity objective. Nevertheless, it is critical that we appreciate the potential of these public-private opportunities. As a starting point, stakeholders from diverse backgrounds need meaningful interaction to enable an understanding. That is where the World Economic Forum is bridging a huge gap.
But that is not all the World Economic Forum is doing for health. It is also contributing substantively in the normative and advocacy space. The case of NCDs is illustrative. WEF was a part of the global advocacy drive to address the world's main killer, a threat to human health development and economic growth in a major way. By identifying NCDs as the top ten risks to the world in WEF's Global Risk Reports for two consecutive years (2009 and 2010) it helped raise concern, globally, at a time when it mattered the most. It placed NCDs on the business leader's radar evidenced by WEF's Annual Executive Opinion Surveys, which feeds into the Global Competitiveness Report.
During the process that led up to the UNHLM on NCDs last year, WEF played a strategic role by building a strong economic argument and bringing fundamental evidence of the overall costs of NCDs in the public domain, in its report "The Global Economic Burden of Non-communicable diseases". One of its Global Agenda Councils is engaged in a process aimed at developing a new model to measure global progress--one that takes into account well being in addition to growth.
The World Economic Forum's ability to bring together public and private actors creates a much needed space to explore the potential of engagement with the private sector to achieve Health For All. Rather than 'privatization', 'marketization' or 'scaling up' private provision, the connotation should be one of addressing systemic barriers to stewardship of mixed health systems. Comparative advantages can be drawn upon and synergy exploited. By enabling communication, WEF is helping narrow the existing public-private divide in conventional multilateralism and is helping improve global cooperation and understanding. The insights can inform the design of new institutions of global governance.