Public-Private Partnerships Need Accountability

A huddle of 3D figures.
by admin
August 2, 2017 Private Industry & NGOs

Multi-national corporations (MNCs) are a formidable force in the world and impact every global issue humanity faces, to include war, health, air and water quality, poverty and human rights. It logically follows that MNCs have become an intrinsic component of the answer to global woes (Schwab 109) in a borderless community challenged by expanding societal issues that require extensive resource mobilization.

The necessity of private corporate involvement in global health is critical as it brings funding, innovation and expertise necessary to improve quality of life, increase life expectancy, eliminate and cure disease, and advance healthy living conditions (Sturchio). Global health used to be dominated by United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO) initiatives; however, today public-private partnerships command significant international influence.

Private industry brings  knowledge of research, development, manufacturing and product delivery to global health that moves beyond corporate social responsibility (CSR) into actionable, well funded interventions, which have critical impacts on the health of billions of people (Sturchio). This is particularly true within the pharmaceutical industry where a vast increase in successful partnerships between non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private companies is constantly evolving.

In his Huffington Post article, “The Evolving Role of the Private Sector in Global Health,” Jeffrey Sturchio discusses the effectiveness of such partnerships as illustrated through the Mectizan Donation Program  created by Merck & Co. in partnership with WHO, World Bank and various ministries of health.  This program has successfully provided one billion treatments of Mectizan to control and to eradicate river blindness in areas impacted by the disease.

However, as private entities whose tenet is profit and increased market share, what socio-political ramifications are at stake in this new promise of partnerships? Scholars argue that it could “blur” lines between what is traditionally a “public” concern and a “private” concern (Ruckert & Labonte 1599). Thus, in situations where partnerships have raised awareness of global health problems and contributed to resource generation and facilitation of access to medication for impoverished populations, these same partnerships have undermined efforts to better harmonize delivery of aid and align donor activities. The latter skews national priorities of recipient countries by imposing those of donor partners (Ruckert & Labonte 1599).

This shift in global power structures and the new “citizen” role of business makes it necessary to move corporate accountability to the “top of the social, political and economic agenda of societies” (Matten, Crane and Chapple 118).  Ultimately, without accountability global society risks that the inherent ontology of the private sector will re-enforce neo-liberal management of individuals and populations leading to inculcation of private interests into the public sphere.  This will inevitably create a barrier to improving and/or addressing social determinants of public health – poverty and exclusion (Ruckert & Labonte 1599).

Ruckert & Labonte in their article, “Public–Private Partnerships in Global Health:  The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” call for a paradigmatic shift from Global Health Governance to Governance for Global Health. This would weave in necessary private sector accountability by engaging arenas not typically associated with global health, such as trade, investment, employment, migration and other economic and social policy sectors (1600).

To read more about private-public global health partnerships and their inherent positives and negatives visit:



  1. Matten, Dirk, Andrew Crane, and Wendy Chapple. “Behind the mask: Revealing the true face of corporate citizenship.” Journal of Business Ethics1-2 (2003): 109-120.
  2. Ruckert, Arne, and Ronald Labonté. “Public–private partnerships (ppps) in global health: the good, the bad and the ugly.” Third World Quarterly9 (2014): 1598-1614.
  3. Schwab, Klaus. “Global corporate citizenship: working with governments and civil society.” Foreign Affairs (2008): 107-118.
  4. Sturchio, Jeffrey L. “The Evolving Role of the Private Sector in Global Health.” The Huffington Post., 08 Jan. 2013. Web. 24 May 2017.