The Business of Improving Global Health

ZURICH – The dramatic success of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in driving advances in human health will be a hard act to follow. In just 15 years, child mortality was nearly halved, and malaria deaths declined by 60%. Today nearly 15 million people worldwide receive treatment for AIDS, helping them continue to be productive members of society, compared to only about 10,000 people in 2000, when the MDGs were launched.

Can the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), just adopted by the United Nations to guide global development efforts for the next 15 years, replicate the MDGs’ success? The strong track record of the MDGs certainly provides grounds for hope. But the new health-related goals are broader and more ambitious than before. And the public-health situation is in many ways more challenging than in 2000.

The new SDGs set a lofty goal: for the first time, world leaders have vowed to reduce premature deaths caused by chronic illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. This is a tall order at a time of rapid population growth and rapid aging. Chronic diseases are the main – and growing – cause of death in developed and developing countries alike. And more than two billion people still lack access to essential medicines.

To achieve the new targets, we must find creative new ways to address the world’s biggest health challenges. Above all, we must develop new business models that allow society to better harness the know-how, creativity, and drive of private enterprises to help improve public health. Companies share the responsibility for meeting these new goals, but they also need support from governments and other organizations to ensure the greatest positive impact.