Read the Conversation

EF: Could you elaborate on the significance and impact of being in the region and what it means for the patients? 

AB: We have been with Servier in South Africa for 52 years, and we have expanded to neighbouring countries like Botswana, Namibia, and recently Angola. Our goal is to make our products more accessible to patients. We also have operations in East Africa, and merging these two organizations will strengthen us in southern and eastern Africa. This means we can offer our medicines to more patients across these countries. We can bring quality medicines to more people in Africa by working together. 

We have senior employees who are retiring soon, underscoring the need for culture, knowledge, and legacy continuity. This creates opportunities for growth within the organization. We also understand that global growth is essential, ensuring proper access to medicines for patients without supply chain shortages. We aim to expand our presence in oncology significantly within five years, not just in traditional oncology markets but also in Africa. We are focused on enlarging our footprint to include countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Uganda, where our medicines are not yet accessible. 

EF: What is driving growth in Africa? 

AB: Globally, despite COVID, non-communicable diseases are becoming increasingly important. Authorities are recognizing this trend, which is positive. In the private market, there's improvement in awareness, diagnosis, and treatment. However, the challenge remains in the public sector, where the level of care often does not meet international standards. Many medications are well-established and affordable, yet not all patients can access them. Health authorities should pay more attention to this issue. 

In oncology, we need more awareness, diagnosis, and treatment options, especially considering the high cost of these medications. Local funders often hesitate to support affordability, leaving patients in a tough spot. To address this, pharmaceutical companies like ours offer accessibility programs, particularly in countries like South Africa. However, matching the prices funders are willing to pay is challenging. As a result, access to oncology products in Africa still needs to be improved. 

EF: How do you see patient-centric initiatives working in Africa, and how can we increase and keep awareness at the top of the agenda for different governments? 

AB: In southern and eastern Africa, we have been exploring ways to improve access to our oncology products. We are considering stronger entry into the oncology field through partnerships with local organizations and patient groups. As a board member of IPASA (The Innovative Pharmaceutical Association South Africa), I have observed limited responsiveness from authorities and funders to our messages. The level of collaboration between authorities and private institutions needs improvement so that our proposals can reach their objectives effectively. 

EF: Do you have any advice or main pillars you think would make the healthcare system in Africa more sustainable? 

AB: There is a lot of excellence in Africa, both in the public and private sectors, with plenty of goodwill. However, there's inconsistency in expressing this excellence. What is missing is a collective effort to improve patients' access to healthcare. If budgets were reallocated and used more efficiently, we could achieve a lot. Unfortunately, there is a lack of serious ambition to enhance healthcare for the entire population. Many countries face healthcare access and quality challenges, leading to healthcare professionals leaving. Skilled professionals often migrate to other English-speaking countries. We need immediate action to improve patient access and long-term efforts to retain and motivate healthcare professionals to stay. It is unfortunate to see such potential for excellence not being fully utilized for the benefit of the entire population.  

EF: What tactics do you use to retain and attract talent, and what skill sets are you prioritizing when building your team for the region? 

AB: When employees are happy, engaged, and motivated, it creates a positive work environment. We prioritize professional development and offer career growth opportunities within the company. Our investment in training reflects our commitment to employee growth. We are constantly taking on challenging projects, leading to hands-on learning experiences. The merger of our operations in southern and eastern Africa will provide new opportunities for learning and growth. Internal promotions and career advancements are available for those who demonstrate willingness and positive ambition. 

EF: Do you have initiatives to educate patients and society overall? 

AB: We have two initiatives: #ActNow for diabetes awareness, which involves advertising on taxis, social media influencers, and healthcare professionals appearing on radio and TV. We also conduct screenings at healthcare centers and pharmacies to identify potential diabetes cases early. Similarly, #CheckYourPressure focuses on hypertension, with extensive training and screenings at medical centers and pharmacies. These initiatives are crucial because diabetes and hypertension are often silent diseases, and early detection can make a significant difference in patient outcomes. 

EF: Looking back on your trajectory at Servier, what are the things you are most proud of and would like to celebrate with your team after the last 14 years? 

AB: Reflecting on the past 14 years, our company has undergone significant positive changes. We have evolved from a French-focused retail company to an internationally oriented organization with a strong emphasis on patient care and employee well-being. In less than a decade, we have transformed our culture and expanded into oncology, previously absent from our portfolio. This rapid change is remarkable, especially in the pharmaceutical industry. We are optimistic about the next 10 to 20 years, driven by our commitment to developing new drugs and ensuring their accessibility to patients. As a company without shareholders, we focus on serving patients and advancing medicine. Successfully achieving these goals over the past decade is something worth celebrating. 

May 2024
South Africa