Humanitarian Health Action

Proceedings from the WHO Conference on the Health Aspects of the Tsunami Disaster in Asia

Phuket, Thailand, 4-6 May 2005

Private sector partnership for health action in crisis

38. There was an unusually high level of both national and international private sector involvement in the response to the tsunami, with contributions of professional skills, in-kind relief supplies and funding. This included both private companies in the region, and global corporations. Participants heard of local-level experiences that illustrated the potential benefit of combining private sector provision of resources and expertise with the contributions of both government and voluntary sectors.

39. Reviews showed that successful public-private partnerships reflected the preparations made by the partners before people or materials were deployed. Success is most likely if there are pre-existing personal relations, memoranda of understanding, or ongoing programmes of work between private entities and either UN agencies, the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, NGOs or governments. If experienced professional and technical experts are to be provided by private entities to work under public sector direction, arrangements for direction and reporting have to be clearly agreed in advance. This reflects the absolute importance of mutual investment - by both groups of partners - in the building of trust and credibility. There is then scope for rapid agreement on whom or what is needed, where and when, and under what management arrangements.

40. In the tsunami response, private sector experts were successfully deployed to work with international agencies. Their roles were carefully defined, enabling skilled personnel to be rapidly identified and deployed. The deployments were facilitated through support provided by key UN and government officials (including bespoke briefing and debriefing arrangements). Participants heard how private entities were able to work with government and other stakeholders to map and estimate generic needs in crisis.

41. Despite this positive experience, concerns continue to be expressed over the motives of private entities involved in disaster response and the need to ensure the neutrality and the integrity of the public sector. As the ways in which public-private partnerships develop can have significant policy consequences in relief and recovery settings, there is a need for clear principles of engagement between private and public sectors.

42. Private sector groups gain trust and credibility if they identify core competencies and resources, develop databases of what is available and establish procedures to match available resources with needs. They are then in a position to mount speedy and supportive responses.