Public-Private Partnerships Are Vital to Address Public Health Problems

Last week I read with interest former CDC Director William Foege’s article in the Washington Post on the public-private partnership that was developed to address the debilitating disease of river blindness, or Onchocerciasis.

River blindness is an infection caused by a parasitic worm and spread by the bite of an infected blackfly. Most of the infections with this disease occur in sub-Saharan Africa and in Central and South America. According to the World Health Organization’s expert committee, approximately 37 million people worldwide are infected with the disease.

In his Washington Post article, Dr. Foege describes the collaborative venture that came together between governments, business, nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations and a former U.S. president to begin addressing river blindness:

“Merck provided the science, product and inspiration. The Task Force for Child Survival provided a mechanism, the World Health Organization provided technical expertise, and the World Bank developed a program to secure funds for distribution. Former president Jimmy Carter personally enlisted the interest and help of heads of state in Africa. Dozens of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and ministries of health became active participants, and this union of a corporation, an ex-president and an NGO provided a power previously unknown in global health.”

Dr. Foege also describes the tremendous results of this 25-year effort:

“The disease, also known as river blindness, is diminishing. Today, we can even contemplate its elimination, first in Latin America and eventually in even the most infected regions of Africa.”

Last month, the CDC Foundation presented our Hero Award to former President Jimmy Carter. (Dr. Foege is a previous Hero Award recipient.) In honoring President Carter, we recognized his ongoing efforts in public-private partnerships with others to fight six preventable diseases in resource-limited countries, primarily in Africa. In addition to river blindness, these diseases include Guinea worm, malaria, trachoma, schistosomiasis and lymphatic filariasis. I should point out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has worked with President Carter and others for more than two decades to reduce the illness, disability and death caused by neglected tropical diseases.

Creating partnerships between business, government, NGOs and nonprofits is work that we admire and have put into practice here at the CDC Foundation for more than 600 programs aimed at addressing domestic and global public health issues. As public health resources provided by governments to address chronic and infectious diseases become tighter, these types of partnerships have become vital.

We at the CDC Foundation appreciate and commend the incredible partnership effort to address river blindness. Likewise, we value the commitment and work of the CDC Foundation’s partnering organizations who are helping to support CDC’s life-saving and life-changing work focused on a wide variety of issues, such as chronic disease, crisis preparedness, injury prevention and tobacco use reduction.

Charles Stokes is president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.