hero media helmsley

Navigating the Path to Universal Health Coverage

Collaborative Strategies and Technical Solutions for Noncommunicable Diseases

James Reid
James Reid

Type 1 Diabetes Program Officer

Universal Health Coverage (UHC) means that all people have access to the full range of quality health services they need, when and where they need them, without financial hardship.

The concept of UHC is powerful, but putting it into practice has proven incredibly challenging.

When Helmsley co-hosted an event with UNICEF USA and Eli Lilly on “Accelerating Progress on Childhood NCDs to Achieve UHC” at UNGA this year, we realized that we have the tools to build accessible health systems — but we need cross-sector collaboration to deliver on that promise.

In line with UHC Day 2023’s theme “Health for All: Time for Action,” it’s important to remind ourselves that true progress toward Health for All isn’t possible in isolated disease silos. With the global community re-committing to achieving UHC as a priority amidst climate change, conflict, and myriad other challenges, now is the time to double down on investments that prioritize building resilient, integrated health systems.

Bridging Gaps through Primary Health Care

All efforts and investments in addressing noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) — which include type 1 diabetes (T1D) — should focus on integrating NCD care seamlessly into existing health systems. The key to achieving UHC lies in expanding primary health care, especially in low-resource and humanitarian settings.

Successful models like PEN-Plus have demonstrated the effectiveness of empowering nurses and mid-level providers to integrate NCD care into the ongoing continuum of primary care. Helmsley’s grant to WHO’s Regional Office for Africa supports governments in scaling and disseminating the PEN-Plus model to 20 selected countries.

With a similar focus on reaching the most vulnerable, the International Alliance for Diabetes Action (IADA) helps address the escalating diabetes crisis within the context of global displacement. The world is facing an unprecedented number of forcibly displaced people and more people than ever affected by diabetes. IADA’s efforts are critical to improve access to diagnostics, insulin, and essential medicines, strengthen health information systems, and mobilize resources for comprehensive care in vulnerable communities.

Accelerating Progress with Collaborative Investments   

In a time of limited global health resources, multi-funder partnerships are invaluable for mitigating risk and maximizing investment. It’s time to move beyond one-off pilot programs. Instead, donors across sectors — including companies — would be wise to consider combining their investments with existing, complementary efforts.

As one proof point, consider the Eli Lilly and UNICEF USA model: Lilly committed $14.4 million to support UNICEF’s work addressing NCD risk factors among children, strengthen systems of care, and train health care workers to care for patients with NCDs in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Nepal, the Philippines, and Bangladesh. This collaboration strategically directs private capital toward government priorities, preventing conflicts of interest from influencing technical decisions.

The PEN-Plus Partnership is another example. Over 40 leading organizations from the T1D, sickle cell disease, and rheumatic and congenital heart disease communities have joined the Partnership to advance integrated care for this suite of severe chronic conditions. While T1D remains a core focus for Helmsley, we recognize the potential for bold initiatives to drive progress toward UHC, especially for vulnerable children and their caregivers.

Collaborative, cross-sector strategies, innovative investments, and a focus on integrating NCD care into existing health systems are all keys to achieving health for all. Helmsley deeply appreciates our partners who demonstrate their commitment daily to making that a reality.

Emphasizing Market-Driven Solutions

The sometimes varied incentives among for-profit companies, public institutions, and philanthropic organizations mean that efforts to build multisector partnerships can be met with hesitation or resistance. Yet with a balanced, thoughtful approach, these partnerships can be powerful. By advocating for equitable access and commercially sustainable prices, Helmsley aims to enhance access to quality medicines and other chronic healthcare supplies, a core component of UHC.

In practical terms, this includes enhancing the capacity of governments to measure demand for products like insulin, thereby assuring private companies of reliable local demand for lifesaving NCD products. As a concrete step in this direction, Helmsley is supporting the WHO in developing a standardized tool to forecast demand for NCD products.

As we support building stronger markets, Helmsley will continue to push private sector partners to offer the same standard of care in low- and middle-income countries at equitable, commercially sustainable prices. By identifying company-specific opportunities to improve access we will foster best practices, including:

  • Ensuring best-in-class medicines are registered in all low- and middle-income countries;
  • Planning delivery and supply initiatives during late-stage research and development that maximize access to essential medicines and quality health products in every market; and
  • Evaluating and publishing the impact of those access initiatives.


The Road Ahead

Looking ahead, we know that we have a long way to go to reach the five key targets outlined by the Global Diabetes Compact. As a community devoted to the vision of comprehensive care for T1D and access to NCD care irrespective of geographical boundaries, we must push past the status quo.

Collaborative, cross-sector strategies, innovative investments, and a focus on integrating NCD care into existing health systems are all keys to achieving health for all. Helmsley deeply appreciates our partners who demonstrate their commitment daily to making that a reality.

But until then, we have much work to do.