Working with others to meet world health challenges

Monday, 21 May 2012

This week sees the 65th session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva. The Assembly, which is the decision-making body of the World Health Organization (WHO), provides a forum for civil society, the private sector and WHO Member States to determine WHO policy priorities. The theme of this year’s WHA is ‘universal health coverage’ and will focus on, among other issues, the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, non-communicable diseases, mental disorders, nutrition and adolescent pregnancy.

Two colleagues talking

The World Health Assembly is an important opportunity for continued conversation about how the public and private sectors can work to together to meet global health challenges.

AstraZeneca’s business has long been focused on meeting some of these challenges. We have decades of experience in the research and development of treatments for non-communicable and infectious diseases, for example, and our Responsible Business agenda includes going beyond our medicines to help improve healthcare in underserved communities. Across all our business activities, we have a strong commitment to collaboration, combining our skills and resources with others in the fight against disease. The World Health Assembly represents an important opportunity to continue the conversation with policy makers and others about working together to achieve a common goal – improved health.

Tackling non-communicable diseases

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer and heart disease, kill more than 36 million people each year, accounting for over 63% of deaths in the world today. They are rapidly overtaking infectious diseases as a developing world health threat. Some 80% of all NCD deaths happen in low- and middle-income countries.

AstraZeneca has a track record in NCD treatment, with a strong portfolio of medicines and a strategy for broadening the affordability of these medicines to reach more patients. Most of our research investment continues to centre on finding new treatments for NCDs, with a sharp focus on unmet medical needs, because this is where our skills can make the most difference. Yet we know we can’t do it alone – the challenges are too great. As well as our in-house research, we partner with others to strengthen the platform for successful innovation. We also collaborate at a global level to help increase knowledge and understanding. In partnership with the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, for example, we are undertaking policy research to identify practical steps to overcoming the barriers to prevention and treatment of NCDs.

Finding new treatments for tuberculosis and malaria

Alongside the rising challenge of NCDs, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria continue to be a significant burden of disease. TB is one of the leading causes of death from infectious disease worldwide, claiming over 5,000 lives every day. In particular, the rise of drug resistant bacteria is becoming a global threat to health.

Scientists at our dedicated TB research facility in India work within AstraZeneca and in external collaborations to speed the development of much needed new treatments. These include The Critical Path to TB Drug Regimes and More Medicines for TB. Separately, we are collaborating with Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV) to identify new treatments for malaria, another major health threat in the developing world. A large part of our extensive library of compounds has been screened at MMV and promising leads from this work are being pursued in our infection research laboratories.


Strengthening healthcare capabilities

In some areas of the world, the availability of medicines is not the main barrier to healthcare. Good public health also depends on having a functional healthcare system and the right allocation of resources in place to make sure that medicines are used appropriately as part of overall health management.

For people in communities with limited healthcare infrastructure, we work with NGOs and other organisations to help strengthen capabilities and improve patient outcomes.

For example, our partnership with the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) in Uganda is strengthening disease management capabilities at a community level, centred on the integrated management of the country’s most serious health threats: malaria, HIV AIDS and TB (MAT). Over the past five years the MAT partnership has helped to deliver a significant improvement in the detection of TB and TB/HIV co-infection, and increased malaria and HIV testing. Importantly for the sustainability of the programme, not only has it strengthened healthcare systems at the local level, it has created an integrated MAT management model which can be more widely applied in the future.

In another approach to bridging a gap, our AstraZeneca Young Health Programme (YHP) is targeting adolescent health, which remains an underserved part of the healthcare agenda. YHP is designed to help young people in need around the world to deal with the health issues they face so they can improve their chances of a better life. We are working with expert partners, Plan (a global children’s charity) and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, to identify the challenges in our local communities and to help tackle these on the ground. For example, India has the fastest growing urban poor in the world. However, urban services and infrastructure have not kept pace with rapid urbanisation. Access to health services is limited and awareness about sexual and reproductive health and HIV/AIDS is low. Our YHP programme in India is focused on improving hygiene and reproductive health in five settlement areas in Delhi.


Helping to deliver Millennium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight international development goals that, in 2000, all 192 United Nations (UN) member states agreed to achieve by the year 2015. According to the UN, if these goals are achieved, world poverty will be cut by half, tens of millions of lives will be saved, and billions more people will have the opportunity to benefit from the global economy.

Many of AstraZeneca’s activities are consistent with several of the MDGs, where the targets centre on improving health and halting the spread of disease. Some of our Young Health Programme projects are supporting MDG 4 (Reduce child mortality rate) and MDF 5 (Improve maternal health). Our in-house research, collaborations and community partnerships are helping to deliver MDG 6 (Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases) and our continued commitment to partnering is consistent with MDG 8 (Develop a global partnership for development).


Going forward

Improving health is one of the toughest challenges facing the world today. We believe that real progress can only be made in partnership with others – whether that’s finding new medicines, increasing access to those medicines or – when access is not the main challenge, helping to build healthcare capabilities where they are needed. Collaboration is a way of life at AstraZeneca now and for the future.

LabTalk is AstraZeneca’s science-focused blog where you can hear from scientists, researchers and academics discussing novel ideas, research and innovation.

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