Education And Debate WHO in 2002

Faltering steps towards partnerships

BMJ 2002; 325 doi: (Published 23 November 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:1236

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Gavin Yamey, deputy physician editor, Best Treatments (
  1. BMJ Unified, London WC1H 9JR

    Public-private partnerships for health have been a defining feature of Gro Brundtland's term as director general of WHO. How is WHO performing in its role as a partner?

    WHO must “reach out to others,” said Gro Brundtland in her first speech after her election as director general of the organisation.1 This statement heralded a new era of partnerships between WHO and other health agencies, the private sector, and civil society (box 1).2 In this article, I examine how WHO is performing in these alliances, with a particular focus on Roll Back Malaria.

    Summary points

    Gro Brundtland's election as director general heralded a new era of partnerships between WHO and other health agencies, the private sector, and civil society

    WHO has found it hard to let go of its traditional role as being “in charge” of global health activities

    The Roll Back Malaria partnership has been plagued by a lack of clear governance and ineffectiveness at country level

    WHO could play an important role in helping countries coordinate new global health initiatives with health systems strengthening

    The organisation needs to articulate a clear policy on working in partnerships, including proper safeguards in its interactions with the private sector

    Defining partnerships

    Malaria causes about 3000 deaths a day, over 90% of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.3 It is both a disease of poverty and a cause of poverty (fig 1), slowing economic growth by 1.3% per year in endemic areas.3 Roll Back Malaria (RBM) was launched in 1998 as Brundtland's “pathfinder” project,4 bringing together the biggest players in health with the aim of halving the malaria death rate by 2010.

    Fig 1

    Global burden of malaria

    It has had two major successes. Firstly, it brought together more than 90 multilateral, bilateral, non-governmental, and private organisations. Secondly, it has raised the profile of …

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