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Exploring Cross-Sector Solutions to Advance Health for Children Living with Noncommunicable Diseases

James Reid
James Reid

Type 1 Diabetes Program Officer

At Helmsley, we are driven to help the global T1D community live safer, better, and more fulfilling lives. As the world’s largest private philanthropic supporter of people living with T1D, we recognize our unique and urgent responsibility to ensure this population has access to care. We also acknowledge that T1D is part of the broader category of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), and there are proven, cost-effective strategies that improve the quality of care for multiple conditions with a single investment.

A Cross-Sector Conversation

At the recent 78th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), while world leaders gathered to discuss a wide range of pressing issues, including progress toward health for all, Helmsley co-hosted an event with UNICEF USA and Eli Lilly on “Accelerating Progress on Childhood NCDs to Achieve UHC.”

This event aimed to emphasize the inclusion of every child with a noncommunicable disease in the goals and global strategies used to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

I took the stage with leading experts from the field — including Dr. Luwei Pearson, Associate Director of Maternal, Newborn and Child Health at UNICEF; Dr. Ana Mocumbi, Co-Chair of NCDI Poverty Network; and John Steele, Senior Director of Corporate Affairs at Lilly Diabetes — to discuss strategies to address childhood NCDs in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). We made an intentional choice to structure the event as an open dialogue, spurring thought-provoking discussion between panelists and audience members.

I walked away from the event with tempered optimism. We can build better, more accessible health systems focused on whole people, whatever their age or condition — but it will take cross-sector collaboration to deliver on that promise.  In particular, the private sector has a critical role in ensuring everyone with NCDs, including people living with T1D, has access to medicine and care.

To make progress on one disease, we need to look beyond our specific cause to find integrated, community-driven solutions.

Integrated Investments in Person-Centered Care

The event speakers made it clear that if we truly hope to address NCDs in LMICs, it’s critical to take a step back and look at the bigger picture — including how T1D and other NCDs intersect with clinical care models, supply chains, health financing, and the wider health system. To make progress on one disease, we need to look beyond our specific cause to find integrated, community-driven solutions.

In resource-limited areas, country leaders grappling with rising NCD costs are increasingly turning to collaborative partnerships for comprehensive solutions. One such solution is PEN-Plus, a World Health Organization-endorsed strategy to integrate care for severe NCDs by training more providers to diagnose and treat people at district-level health facilities, often in rural areas. Helmsley’s grant to WHO’s Regional Office for Africa is supporting governments to introduce and expand the PEN-Plus strategy, aiming to reduce severe NCD-related mortality by 15 percent in participating countries over three years.

Perhaps most importantly, the PEN-Plus model is designed to seamlessly integrate into the existing continuum of primary care, bridging critical gaps in a country’s NCD promotion, prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment efforts to bring care closer to home.

Closing Funding Gaps with Private Sector Support

After a UNGA week packed with partner meetings and financing dialogues, my colleagues on the panel retreated to a common refrain: resources for global health are limited. According to the NCD Alliance, only 2 percent of the overseas development aid for health is allocated to NCDs. But from the audience, Raoul Bermejo, a Health Specialist at UNICEF, challenged the assumption that we can do nothing to change the funding landscape.

While domestic and aid health spending has indeed been declining, we can still think creatively about financing care for children with NCDs, including exploring the prospect of co-funding from the private sector. Targeted and multisectoral collaboration can reduce financial gaps.

A Shared Path Forward

An independent report from Access to Medicines Foundation found that the three companies that dominate the global insulin market — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi — are pursuing a fragmented set of strategies to expand access to their products in LMICs. Working alone, these private sector efforts often have limited scope, breadth, and scale.

Eli Lilly’s new tack, through a partnership with UNICEF, prioritizes collaborative, co-funded strategies. This is one to watch, because cross-sector collaboration — including more involvement from the private sector — is the surest path toward reliable health access for children living with NCDs.

To this end, we’ll keep forging partnerships that leverage each sector’s unique strengths for the common good of the communities we all serve.