Read the Conversation
EF: Do you see the National Health Insurance (NHI) as a challenge or as an opportunity?
BN: From a patient’s perspective, the NHI is something that must happen in South Africa. It is about equity and equality in healthcare and essentially about driving the two systems we currently have to provide balanced access to healthcare for all patients. From a company’s perspective, a unified healthcare system will require strong public-private partnering and collaboration with the Department of Health (DoH) and with the Government. It is essential as our future social and economic development will depend on an equitable and inclusive healthcare system that is able to respond to the healthcare needs of all our citizens. Although the roll-out of NHI may have its challenges to overcome, there is no doubt that it marks a significant milestone in our country and it is up to all key stakeholders in healthcare to come together at the table to find workable solutions.
EF: How is AstraZeneca’s global portfolio adapted to South Africa?
BN: We operate with the same global portfolio, mainly cardio-vascular, renal and metabolic diseases, respiratory and oncology. The South African market has its challenges with acquiring new registrations; however, since the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has been set-up, the timelines have sped up. We are optimistic about seeing a regulatory framework that is more enabling and supportive of implementing changes in our healthcare system and aligned with the long-term vision of access to healthcare. This year we were pleased to bring our new Oncology product for lung cancer on the market. In the next two (2) to three (3) years, we are expecting quite a few of the indications to come through, which will put us on par with some European countries and the United States (US).
EF: How do you view the impact of digital technology on the way pharma companies do business, or make better use of resources?
BN: We are lagging behind other industries. We are working with an extremely young population in Africa where everybody has a device, therefore using digitization to ease the patient’s journey is an opportunity that we must respond to as an industry to increase access and reach. An excellent example of digitization in rural pharmacy level is virtual consultation – telemedicine. For instance, if a patient complains to the pharmacist about a chesty cough, the pharmacist can use an app to guide the patient through the screening questions, and then decide if there is a potential asthma-related complaint for which further doctor consultation is required for verification. With digitization, we can streamline and link all the different phases of the patient journey, from the pharmacy to the GP, to specialist referral. This provides valuable feedback that informs decisions and guidelines that can shorten and ease the patient journey.
At AstraZeneca, we work together with a broad range of partners in implementing effective programmes that focus on prevention, treatment, and management of diseases across Africa. An example is an app for diabetes patients for whom adherence to treatment is critical. The app supports the patient in their treatment management and management of their illness and provides access to relevant information. It also provides access to a dietitian or a nurse, who checks in on their treatment management, and provides support.
The Vula App used in the Western Cape is a fascinating development. Through the app, a junior Doctor in one hospital can contact a specialist on call in another hospital to ask questions. It’s a form of education, and an excellent way to use digitization in our favour.
EF: Could you define what access means to you?
BN: With the patient in mind, it means the availability of good healthcare, not just medication. Access starts with logistics, with the availability of service in the right places and at the right time. All these factors, as well as diagnosis and medication, should also be cost-effective. Because the healthcare environment in Africa is changing at a rapid pace, providing access to healthcare for all those who need it, is a significant and complex challenge.
AstraZeneca has been successful in positively impacting communities in Africa by introducing life-changing medicines, providing sustainable access programmes that strengthen healthcare capabilities, and offer vital support. The Healthy Heart Africa programme is AstraZeneca’s signature commitment to healthcare access aimed at improving the lives of hypertensive patients across Africa. In South Africa, we are in discussion with the National Department of Health to deliver a National Hypertension Screening Programme that will focus on early detection and diagnosis. Our Phakamisa Programme brings together organisations to help raise awareness of Non-Communicable Diseases, and improve health outcomes for patients in South Africa, with a current focus on Breast and Prostate Cancer.
We continue to actively explore various programmes that have been successful in other countries, for example, nebulization for children with respiratory afflictions, in hospitals, local clinics, and pharmacies.
EF: What would you like AstraZeneca’s role to be in South Africa and Africa?
BN: We are working hand in hand with governments on non-communicable diseases. We are building sustainable partnerships from awareness, diagnosis, treatment, and continuously working on the improvement of care. Every day, behind every medication sold, is a patient, a family, and a history of what transpired before they got sick. That’s what we need to always keep in mind. Working collaboratively with a broad range of partners, I feel confident we can implement effective programmes for prevention, treatment, and management of diseases across Africa, that advance patient health and access along the care continuum.
EF: You will be celebrating 10 years with AstraZeneca in a year and a few months. What would you like to celebrate with your team on your 10-year anniversary?
BN: It would definitely be the strong collaboration across all our AstraZeneca subsidiaries, in all Africa markets. While there are significant variations and uniqueness between and within the countries we are present in, the similarities are remarkable. I believe strongly in the opportunity to harness these similarities to develop a common set of solutions that allow for local interpretation and deliver better healthcare for all African patients.
I look forward to celebrating teams within the organization that believes in what we do and contribute to the mission we have as a company.
EF: What is your vision for the company’s direction in the next five (5) years?
BN: Sustainability in Africa is the answer. In Africa, we are still grappling with diverse markets and established and emerging health challenges that place a considerable financial strain on development. Our role is to work on a sustainable local solution in all countries, from South Africa and Kenya, to Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Our goal is to be a trusted partner of choice by the government and society.