1. On track: Unitaid’s five-year strategy is paying off
2. Mixing and matching: the importance of tailoring care to each patient’s needs
3. Behind the scenes with Unitaid Executive Officer Claudia Diebold
On track: Unitaid’s five-year strategy is paying off
Over the first several months of 2019, Unitaid took a long look in the mirror through its midterm strategy review. The review sought to find out how well the organization was faring in meeting its objectives for 2017-2021. Was Unitaid truly connecting the most promising health innovations with people who need them? Had the organization been bold, relevant, forward looking? What have we learned, and what challenges lie ahead?
Now the results are in, and they’re encouraging. Among them: Unitaid signed 21 new grant projects during the first two years of the strategy, saw its portfolio grow by a third in value, saved US$110 million in costs by refining projects for the greatest efficiency, expanded its roster of partners, and shrank the amount of time it takes to get new grants off the ground.
“Our strategy was set up to catalyze access to innovations so we can have an impact on the ground,” Unitaid Chief of Staff Sanne Wendes said. “Our midterm strategy is telling us that we are on track, that we are successful in addressing some of the toughest challenges in our markets, and that this is having an impact on a global scale.”
Innovations from the strategy’s first half include HIV self-testing, new-generation bed nets and preventive treatment for malaria, and an initiative that employs artificial intelligence to diagnose cervical cancer, a common cause of death among women living with HIV. Unitaid is increasing access to more than 60 new health products—things like better, more affordable medicines and diagnostic tests.
The fact that Unitaid-piloted innovations are designed to be scaled up by partner organizations is more and more visible: 16 million children are receiving seasonal malaria chemoprevention in Africa now that Unitaid’s ACCESS SMC innovation has been scaled up by the Global Fund and other partners. HIV self-tests are already reaching five million people a year and are expected to significantly decrease the number of people who are unaware that they have the virus.
Other progress noted in the midterm review:
- Unitaid’s tuberculosis portfolio was substantially replenished with US$ 116 million in new investments.
- Unitaid focused harder on disease prevention, in line with global health strategies. Prevention projects represented 21 percent of the organization’s portfolio in 2018, up from 5 percent in 2016.
- Battling drug-resistant microbes figured more prominently than ever in Unitaid’s work.
- The organization is proving agile in seizing opportunities.
The midterm review also identified global health challenges that will demand innovative drugs, tools and ideas; common medicines are failing under an onslaught of superbugs, disease burdens are changing. Financing is shifting as global resources plateau and countries work to fill the gap. New approaches and partnerships will be needed to make sure innovations are scaled up for the greatest impact.
Mixing and matching: the importance of tailoring care to each patient’s needs
In 2016, Unitaid predicted that finding new ways to combine health services would become more and more necessary if global health goals were to be reached. This type of streamlining—TB testing in pediatric clinics, malaria prevention with prenatal care, multiple diseases diagnosed on a single machine, and so on—would not only cure more patients, but help make the most of the limited finances available for global health.
“Years ago, Unitaid made a commitment to look at more integrated approaches, and that’s what we’re doing. Nearly three-quarters of our projects now include integration. And it’s having an impact,” said Philippe Duneton, Unitaid’s deputy executive director.
A notable example, Duneton said, can be found in Unitaid-funded projects that are using Xpert machines from tuberculosis programs to diagnose HIV in infants.
Integrating health care saves lives and resources
Behind the scenes
Claudia Diebold joined Unitaid in 2017 as executive officer. Her job is to provide strategic advice to the executive director and the senior management team. She also works on cross-department strategies and special initiatives, including the latest midterm strategy review.
Here she talks about why the review was important, and how it came together:
Claudia Diebold. Photo: Unitaid
The midterm review was an exciting project that involved many different teams from the secretariat. We reached out to some of our key partners to understand what they think about Unitaid and to receive independent input. We also interviewed our board members. It was both an internal and an external exercise, getting feedback from many different stakeholders.
We looked at all of our grants, and at the progress we’ve made so far. It was great to see Unitaid's impact, the lives and resources saved when our innovations are scaled up through our partners and country governments.
I think it’s important for an organization to understand whether its strategy is still relevant. Our strategy is for five years, and because we work in innovation—an area that evolves so quickly—we need to understand if the objectives we set for ourselves are still relevant.
The midterm review helps us understand some of the new trends in the global health response, such as the fact that there is more resistance to medicines, that disease burdens are changing. We need to keep evolving with those changes to really make an impact on people’s lives.