In response to the rise of public-private partnerships as a model of 'good governance', and in the absence of sufficient attention being given to examining the benefits and challenges of engaging with private sector actors, a group of academicians, researchers and civil society actors came together at the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) in the American University to establish the Governance, Ethics and Conflicts of interest (GECI) in public health Network, with the support of the International Development Research Center (IDRC). The Network aims to promote institutional safeguards and measures that protect public health goals in research, professional practice and policy-making.
The GECI Network's first meeting was held on February 9 and 10, 2018 at AUB bringing together 25 members from different regions. The main objectives of the meeting included strengthening the collective understanding of the challenges emerging from the engagement of for-profit corporations with public health actors, and outlining the next steps in research, policy, and practice to mitigate against these challenges.
In his opening statement during this event, AUB President Fadlo Khuri praised the meeting that “comes as a culmination of four-year collaboration with IDRC, bringing together researchers from all over the world and different public health fields, and representing an opportunity to build and strengthen the understanding of engagement and collaborations between academia, and private institutions."
“Accepting funds from transnational companies could result in ethical and practical challenges, and while we could work with private sector, there is a need for clear transparent boundaries that allows for scrutiny and ethical engagement," added AUB President.
Also speaking during the event, Dean of FHS Iman Nuwayhid stressed the significance of “developing such a systematic project to assess the availability of policies in different regions, and the attitudes of public health academics and professionals towards these matters, and opinions about needed regulations". Dr. Nuwayhid described “this meeting as an opportunity to start a promising network of concerned researchers in this area".
Mr. Zee Leung, Senior program officer at IDRC reassured the “Center's commitment to supporting researchers in the global south in addressing key public health threats such as Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)". “Interactions with international corporations are heavy with complexities that have been recognized by international actors like the World Health Organization (WHO). It is important to raise awareness on the possible challenges associated with such interactions. However, it is also equally important to recognize the diversity and crucial role that the private sector can play".
The meeting continued with presentations from the participants who brought in lessons learned from their experiences. Interactive discussions from this meeting contributed in outlining core principles and guidelines that can help public health professions/institutions to navigate the tricky challenges of ethics, conflict of interest and governance in this space.