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Public-Private Partnerships: A contentious issue that demands discussion

July 9, 2013

An issue that keeps coming up at conferences I’ve been at lately has been the role of industry in public health. It’s an interesting question, as funding for prevention requires a level of political will and foresight that will not lend immediate dividends, and may not for 10, 20 or even 30 years. Given how many politicians now exist in a perpetual election cycle where any misstep is captured and covered ad nauseum, not having immediate payoffs are a risky proposition. Add to this an aging population that requires immediate and tangible medical care, and (in those countries that have public healthcare) there is a tough decision that has to be made: immediate and tangible dividends, or long term goals that you may not be around to enjoy.

As a result, groups have turned to other partners to acquire funding for public health interventions. These range from other public health groups, NGOs/NPOs as well as industry. While there isn’t much controversy surrounding the first two groups, the third raises no shortage of concerns among both public health people and the public. The basic question is this: Can we partner with industry, and if so, how can we partner with them in a way that keeps both sides happy?

I’ve been mulling this post over for a while now, as there isn’t an easy answer to the above question. As mentioned above, this is an issue that keeps coming up – especially in the obesity area (which comprises one of the focuses of my PhD dissertation). It culminated in an event organized by the Canadian Obesity Network – Student and New Professionals National Executive where they invited 4 speakers to speak on the issue – ranging from those who were profoundly against partnership, to those who were all for partnership, and even those in between. I’m not going to go into whether or not you *should* partner with industry, as both sides of this debate have been covered very well by Dr Arya Sharma and Dr Yoni Freedhoff in their respective blog posts on the topic.

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