The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS)

Global Dialogue on Partnerships for Sustainable Financing of Non-communicable Disease (NCD) Prevention and Control

Speech by Grete Faremo, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNOPS*, Copenhagen, 11 April 2018

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Ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues,

I would like to thank the Government of Denmark and the World Health Organization for organizing this important event today.  

I’d also like to personally extend a warm welcome to all of you as the head of the UN in Denmark and Executive Director of UNOPS, the only UN organization to be headquartered in the Nordics.

  • *This speech was delivered on behalf of Grete Faremo by UNOPS Partnerships and Liaison Group Director Nikolaj Gilbert.


The past few days have been full of strong, constructive discussions.

These conversations will help inform the deliberations of the High-Level Commission on Non-communicable Diseases and the UN General Assembly’s Third High Level Event on NCDs later this year.  

As experts, policymakers and practitioners, you know better than anyone how vital it is to come to grips with NCDs.

The economic costs of NCDs – the lost productivity, the burden on health and social welfare systems – is projected to be trillions of dollars.

NCDs affect all countries. However, developing countries feel their impact the most.

There, rates of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and respiratory diseases, are quickly rising.

NCDs are a major threat to meeting SDG 3’s aim of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all.

Many of us in this room may have an NCD and surely everyone knows someone – a relative, a friend, a co-worker, a neighbour – who does.


Where we come in:

So where does UNOPS come in?

The challenges and risk factors underlying NCDs require engaging all aspects of society. 

For that to work, we depend on partnerships that integrate various stakeholders and sectors, united around a common vision.

It is on this topic – partnerships – that I would like to talk about.

Our mission is to help people build better lives and countries to achieve peace and sustainable development.

As a self-financed organization, our main role is to help our partners achieve their objectives.

Simply put: Our success is measured by their success. We survive on the quality of our services and our partners’ satisfaction.

Our work includes:

  • Sustainably procuring millions of units of medicine and medical supplies for partners in Latin American and Southeast Asia
  • Designing, building and reconstructing hospitals, schools and roads in the Middle East and Africa
  • Providing efficient and effective technical and operational support services 

Our unique feature is that partnerships are our principal modus operandi.

We are an implementation-based organization that works with a range of partners: Governments, members of the UN family, international financial institutions, NGOs and the private sector.

We provide services to the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and many others.

UNOPS also hosts several health initiatives, including:

  • The Stop TB Partnership
  • The Roll Back Malaria Partnership
  • The Scaling-up Nutrition Movement
  • The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council

Overall, our health-related work totalled some $430 million in 2017.

So, what have we learnt from these partnerships?

First: A partnership only makes sense when the benefits outweigh the costs for all involved.

Second: The most fruitful and lasting partnerships are those that are co-developed with a common vision in mind.

Third: You need clear and transparent rules for governing and running a partnership, as well as a structure that is independent from any individual partner. This is pivotal to success.

That’s why we pay particular attention to hosting terms for inter-agency partnerships.

Fourth: Strong partnerships are developed as longer-term, sustainable businesses. Sufficient time and resources are necessary to achieve good results.

Fifth: Partnerships require a give-and-take – everyone must pull their own weight, whether it is giving resources or providing expertise. Not doing so can corrode the spirit of the partnership. 

Sixth: You must have the right mix of complementary skills. This means clearly defined roles by all involved. Collaborative governance and management processes achieve more than simply coordinating the partners involved.

Seventh: Partnerships are living processes. Once formed, they can take on a life of their own. They need to stay flexible to be resilient.

Evaluations and reviews are also necessary, as is bringing in new ideas and partners – as well as allowing partners to leave.

NCD financing:

I spoke earlier about the SDGs.

As many of you know, there is a vast gap between what we have and what we aspire to do. 

Funding for NCDs remains small – and Official Development Assistance alone isn’t enough.

We must look to new types of financing to address the challenges before us.

For NCDs, we must drive down supply-side costs – the costs of essential medicines, diagnostics and equipment.

This requires innovative marketplace mechanisms. We must take advantages of pooled procurement and streamlined service delivery models to create economies of scale, reducing the expense of basic health services.     

Increased financing into the prevention and management of NCDs is also needed. 

So, where does this come from?

We know that people spend a lot on healthcare. Could community financing partnerships – including mechanisms like micro-finance and micro-insurance products – provide incentive, empower patients and deliver better value? 

National health budgets will need to increase to cover the universal health coverage that countries have signed up to as part of their SDG commitments.

Developing countries are increasing the proportion of their national wealth that goes into healthcare. This is a welcome trend – but it’s not enough.

Engaging the private business sector is crucial here.

Reducing the barriers that constrain this from happening on a larger scale will require a different mind-set and new modalities for public-private partnerships.

UNOPS is keen to play its part and will step up to the table as required. 

I am pleased to announce that we have just agreed to host a new people-public-private initiative – the Defeat-NCD Partnership*, based in Geneva.

It is dedicated to helping countries scale up their work on NCDs, according to their own national health and NCD strategies, and guided by the best practices advice from the World Health Organization. As part of its mission, the Defeat-NCD Partnership has started looking into innovative models for service delivery, procurement of essential supplies and financing. 

I would like to thank the Government of Denmark and Novo Nordisk for their generous support to start the Defeat-NCD Partnership, and we invite others to join.

Much work lies ahead.

But I am optimistic that with your energetic support and openness to exploring new ways to form partnerships, we will make headway in the fight against noncommunicable diseases.

Thank you. 

*As of 31 July 2019, UNOPS no longer hosts the Defeat-NCDs initiative.

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