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International Organizations and the Engagement of Private Healthcare Providers

This is a discussion document commissioned by the World Health Organization and recommended by the Advisory Group on the Governance of the Private Sector to support the development of a WHO strategy. By Mark Hellowell and Barbara O’Hanlon

The private health sector plays a predominant role in most health systems, from primary care to acute care or preventive services. Several international agencies have adopted strategies to engage this sector in pursuit of their programmatic goals. In the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, there is now a pressing need, as well as a promising opportunity, for the international community to drive forward an agenda for strategically engaging the private sector to achieve health objectives, including Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

This article analyzes the nature and extent of current global health practice related to private sector engagement. Information has been collected via a mapping of current private sector engagement activities of key global health actors, an assessment of the strengths and limitations of these activities from the perspective of UHC, and an analysis of how WHO can deploy its distinctive strength to accelerate progress toward UHC.

The analysis reveals three waves of private sector engagement activities in global health, focusing respectively on social marketing, global public-private partnerships, and market systems in the health sector. Commonalities exist between those activities and the agencies that are implementing them: most efforts are focused on programme-specific objectives, approaches to engagement are not well-aligned with UHC, and only little activities aim at improving governance.

The article ends with a wide range of recommendations for the global health community, based on the gaps and needs revealed by the analysis: ensure the availability of data on the private sector, provide evidence based approaches to private sector engagement, better coordinate private sector activities among all stakeholders involved,  advocate to build support for private sector engagement or provide resources to support private sector engagement activities.



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