Read the Conversation

EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics, 2021 the year of vaccines, what do you think 2022 will be the year off?

BN: 2022 will be a year of consolidation and dissemination to a certain extent where we will have time to bring to the fore what happened and what has been the lasting impact that the pandemic has had on our staff and healthcare professionals. We have seen a fundamental change and the world is starting to go back to normal.

EF: How can the industry leverage its experiences from the past couple of years in order to navigate its response against this potential new wave?

BN: People's health remains front and centre. AstraZeneca has been in Africa for over 30 years and has brought in vaccines at no profit and brought discussions to slow the pandemic down and other non-communicable diseases. It is integral to ensure that major health concerns such as diabetes, asthma, and cancer remain front and centre stage for the healthcare systems by continuing to work with the government and NGOs, and societies to also ensure that we deliver on their plans, and what that holds into the future.

EF: How can the industry keep the momentum going with collaborative initiatives?

BN: It is about trying to find more collaboration across the patient journey. For instance, if you are involved with certain diseases, it is important to know who to best work with and partner with to make the footprint bigger. There are other potentials to consider such as the provision of education in rural areas on the signs and symptoms of diseases. It is vital to carry on with collaborations and partnerships along with initiatives such as the ‘By Africa, For Africa’ webinars, because they deal with healthcare professionals and education for patients to notice symptoms at an early stage.

EF: Could you elaborate on the integrity of education and awareness in South Africa?

BN: In South Africa, we have a program that has been running for about 11 years now and is aimed at government sector patients. It is centred around the awareness, screening and diagnosis of cancer patients mostly focused on breast and prostate cancer. We also run initiatives where we go into communities with experts, general practitioners, urologists, and oncologists to talk to people about signs and symptoms, and then work with laboratories to set up screening facilities where people can get their bloodwork done to see if there are any risk factors. We are often the first point of contact for people in the government sector, which is why we run classes for them, we provide them with the training to do initial examinations and diagnosis on if to refer or if it's not to refer.

EF: What can other companies learn from AstraZeneca's approach to healthcare delivery?

BN: As commercial organizations, you have a financial responsibility that runs for a financial year and while funds can run tight, you need to recognize that you are in it for the long haul. You need to work at the grassroots level and enable your nursing and medical staff, while then having a regular process of reviewing your approaches, to actually sit down with your partners and access the progress and impact in order to be able to track and grow it.

EF: Can you elaborate on the key factors behind AstraZeneca's success?

BN: Globally, it was the laser focus on the science and reshaping of the pipeline, which South Africans are benefiting from. In Africa, the thing that gives meaning is having a clear alignment and a team focused on health strengthening the health system to ensure wider access to healthcare, and this in turn leads to commercial success. Partnerships have had a considerable impact on the sustainability and resilience of health systems.

EF: What is your perspective on the provision of universal healthcare for South Africa?

BN: In South Africa, 80% of medicine is spent on less than 20% of the population. Driving for a just society with concepts such as equity is important. We also have advanced systems in South Africa, I believe that there are other African countries that have done more, made attempts and adjusted what they were doing to serve and bring equity in healthcare provision, and this is what we South Africans need to work on improving.

Universal Health was an area that was exacerbated in the early days of the pandemic as patients were scared of going back to hospitals. However, this has created an opportunity in some cases where it's now converted from being driven by fear to comfort. We need to be very careful in Africa to not leave the public sector patients behind by using cost-effective home-based care to also serve the broader population. We also need to bring home care closer to homes and enable clinics to better serve the community.

EF: How will machine learning and artificial intelligence help in reducing clinical research trials and speed up treatment?

BN: It is amazing what can be done with patients self-tracking themselves in clinical studies as this gives much more rich data compared to patients who go in once a month for the measurements they take in the hospital. The tech that supports more of a continuous view, is great. The challenge has been how to make this real for patients in Africa. The pragmatic approach is enabling nurses and doctors by giving them access to the right machine equipment and all necessary aspects to take the vital steps for early detection and speedy treatment.

EF: Can you elaborate on what South Africa means for AstraZeneca globally?

BN: South Africa is the gateway into Africa. It is often where we would launch products first, and their health sector is representative of what we see with many of the healthcare systems in other parts of Africa as well. The healthcare system is controlled in terms of pricing and parallel imports. South Africa has big clinical research teams here that have 45 trial sites, which contributes to the strategic importance of the country  
South Africa's history has also made it a hub where good quality medical doctors are, where they study, can get educated and there are good systems in place, even for research where all researchers get peer-reviewed grading dependent on the number of publications they do, and what the impact of those publications are and the contribution that they're making from a scientific and a healthcare perspective.

EF: What advice would you give to young women in South Africa regarding a career in executive leadership?

BN: Do not wait for everything to be perfect, just go and make a start, own your own career. Take a risk and put yourself out, don’t sit and second guess yourself. The worst that can happen is the plan not working out or your idea not being liked. Move on from that. Start somewhere but know that it is okay early on in your career to make some changes. Don't sit and wait for the opportunity. Explore, work in different parts of the world, and take those risks. Look for companies that do mentorship programs, educate you and take sponsorship very seriously.

EF: What are you going to celebrate at the end of this year?

BN: Firstly, having a team within AstraZeneca that is fully engaged, and that has a sense of belonging and a connection to our purpose, our vision, and our mission. Then, as part of that vision and mission, is the continuation of partnerships with the government on several projects while also looking at this whole piece around the strengthening of the healthcare systems. The sustainable projects that stand the test of time will be celebrated.

EF: How do you keep your team engaged in the new age of work?

BN: Engagement comes back to communication, and it is everything from big monthly town halls to small weekly meetings. Having engagement platforms with sales representatives, managers, and leadership teams to keep that continued communication while working with people to understand their contribution to the company's purpose, mission and vision. Socializing outside of work helps with engagement. We did a lot of work regarding the mental-wellbeing of employees with our senior leadership team and senior management team. We provided employees with counselling services, assuring them that it is okay to not be okay, and allowing them to work in a hybrid model, three days in the office, and two days at home.

May 2022
South Africa