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EF: Can you provide an introduction of International SOS to the audience?

DM: International SOS was created 37 years ago and is headquartered in London and Singapore. It is the pioneer and leader in international health and security risk management. We protect our clients' global workforce from health and security threats through 27 assistant centres that help us deliver our services, products, and solutions. The company is successful due to our dedicated personnel, from medical to security professionals. We have 53 clinics globally and deliver healthcare services to more than a thousand workplaces, including remote sites. We offer access to over 100,000 certified network services that act as our assistance providers to support our members with appropriate services globally.

EF: On a global and South African level, what was the COVID-19 response of International SOS?

DM: We adapted our services to respond to the changing needs of our clients, and provided them with real-time insights, risk mitigation, testing and vaccination programs to support their workforce resilience and business sustainability.  The right programmes help companies to respond to COVID-19 and its related restrictions to maintain and improve their duty of care towards employees. We have set up COVID-19 quarantine and treatment centres on isolated sites with little to no access to care. We assisted 85,000 COVID-19-related cases. We ensured they received verified information and access to appropriate care wherever they were. If they cannot be helped, our company charters them. In Africa, we coordinated the world's first multiple-patient COVID-19 intensive care evacuation. On this mission, four critically ill patients were evacuated from Reunion Island to  Paris. This is an example of how we supported Covid-19 patients.

EF: How can the industry advance in creating further awareness regarding mental health?

DM: There has been a key evolution of employee healthcare and well-being pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19. The shift we saw was for example with the Human Resource function, which used to focus mainly on managing employee benefits and career development. Employee healthcare is now a topic discussed, regularly reviewed, and decided on at the board level. Such a change has a positive impact on the duty of care of employers, productivity, decreased absenteeism and increased employee engagement. It may also be a matter of brand protection and becoming an employer of choice. It may be a matter of cost reduction and control over health provision costs. These reasons have shed light on good mental health practices at work and what they can bring. There is a clear demonstration that health and mental health affect the economy. In light of this, the well-being programme, implemented by Mott MacDonald in partnership with International SOS, touches on these subjects.

EF: What is the role of healthcare in developing the economy?

DM: Fundamentally, a healthy workforce will contribute to a dynamic economy. A healthy workforce is important because it ensures business continuity and sustainability. We collect electronic medical records on the thousands of sites we operate on . The collected data is mined to detect trends. Data and trends can formulate action plans to help our clients improve their business continuity and sustainability. It is a subject at the forefront of the industry in the future in light of these new advancements and new ways of thinking.  

EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics, 2021 the year of vaccines; what will 2022 be the year of?

DM: The pandemic had a negative effect on the preventive effort for other infectious diseases like malaria and non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and hypertension.

There are two key things, one is to continue raising healthcare awareness. Right now, promoting breast cancer screening for women is on the healthcare agenda whereas promoting prostate screening is not as popular. This year will be about assisting our clients in developing appropriate awareness and screening programmes so as to prevent health issues among their workforces.  

Discovery in South Africa incentivizes healthy behaviours and preventative screening for various NCDs. It is great how an insurance company is incentivizing a preventative healthcare approach. We need to re-emphasize non-communicable disease prevention and assist in vaccine awareness. Raising awareness is the key.

The second thing to look at is innovation. Leveraged technology will expand the reach of healthcare and health promotion. This translates to Telehealth solutions. The pandemic accelerated the use of Telehealth technology, and it is a very convenient way to remotely access primary and emergency care. In addition, there are wearables like watches, wristbands, and chest bands that keep track of the patients' vitals. Our medical community has a genuine commitment to leveraging all those technologies. The rate of usage for wearables is predicted to become as high as mobile phones years down the line.  

A lot of data can be collected and can become life-saving. In the recent publication of The Economist, ‘the quantified self’ article explored how data can help make us live longer. It is another illustration of what innovation and technology can do.  

We have developed different types of innovative technology, like our Assistance mobile application for our subscribers or the secured Teleconsultation application for our clinic subscribers. . International SOS’s telehealth success can be demonstrated through our ISO 13131 (International Organization for Standardization) certificate for Telehealth services. It is a clear demonstration of how such solutions can boost healthcare, especially in South Africa and it sets an example for the rest of the industry. A lot of innovations accelerated on the back of the pandemic, and now is the time to increase awareness and accelerate the utilization of technology.

EF: Can you elaborate on the importance of South Africa to International SOS?

DM: South Africa is a healthcare hub for us. One of our 27 assistance centres is in Johannesburg. It is also a regional centre for Africa with regional operations and medical support. This centre manages a network of more than a thousand accredited healthcare and security providers.   It is a multilingual centre capable of delivering medical and security advice,  referrals, and evacuations out of countries. It has medical and security professionals available to bring the human touch and save lives.  

EF: What advice would you give to investors regarding putting a stake in South Africa?

DM: South Africa is a good regional base because there is a wide range of capabilities. The South African economy is one of the two largest economies in Africa. The innovation and entrepreneurship here are vast and incredible and supported by the government. It is a good place to invest and have a hub in. South Africa has enormous potential. If you can bring capacity, resources, and potential together, there will be sustainable businesses and healthcare in the country.

EF: How do you keep your employees engaged?

DM: Our HR function has evolved over the last two years. Mental health has been a key focus for our company and employees. We developed an application called my-well-being where employees can share information about their health. Our employees can share their anxieties and challenges freely regularly. We have different employee populations, some are in the office, and others are working remotely. We provide mental health support through different activities like awareness sessions, webinars, a dedicated hotline or in-person counselling sessions. Keeping direct, frequent, and regular communication with all employees is sought after within our company. As a company that works on healthcare risk management, we are conscious of the importance of protecting our employees’ emotional wellbeing.

EF: What do you think are the new skill sets needed in this environment?

DM: The pandemic has driven a hybrid mode and has tested people’s resilience. . When hiring someone, it is not easy to see how resilient they are, unlike when working with them. The capacity to adapt to changes is critical. Many companies, regardless of the size or sector, have had to adjust to this new world. Therefore, change management, the capacity to accept change, and managers driving change are important.  

EF: How would you like to be remembered as a leader at the end of this year?

DM: For protecting and saving lives.  

May 2022
South Africa