Read the Conversation

EF: What are your priorities for AstraZeneca, and how do you see AstraZeneca’s role in 2023? 

DA: Our ambition is to strengthen sustainable health systems through partnerships and innovation. We are doing this every day, by expanding our footprint across the continent as a trusted healthcare partner, focused on accelerating the delivery of patient-centric solutions for all patients in Africa. At AstraZeneca, we seek to push the boundaries of scientific exploration. This commitment resonates throughout our diverse portfolio. We are focused on leading in the therapy areas where we believe we can make the most meaningful difference to patients: oncology; rare diseases; cardiovascular, renal & metabolism; respiratory & immunology; and vaccines and immune therapies. Our efforts extend beyond scientific advancement alone; we seek to infuse scalability into diagnosis, ultimately enriching patients' lives. Key to this mission is the patient. Moreover, innovation is a cornerstone of AstraZeneca's approach. Our drive for novel solutions is to advance healthcare through cutting-edge ideas and cultivate a resilient, sustainable, and value-driven healthcare framework. Equity underpins this aspiration as we strive to broaden access and ensure fairness for more patients. Our values embrace health equity, diversity, inclusion, and entrepreneurial thinking. These principles are the bedrock of our endeavor, whether fostering scientific breakthroughs, expanding healthcare access, driving innovation or tackling the climate crisis – we are harnessing the power of science to tackle some of the world’s biggest public health challenges for a more sustainable and equitable future for people, society, and the planet. AstraZeneca's multifaceted efforts are closely coordinated under the spotlight of Africa's evolving healthcare landscape. 

EF: How do you balance your resources considering your diverse priorities?  

DA: It's crucial to note that every market is significant, as our ultimate focus remains on the patient. We strategically allocate resources based on factors such as our product portfolio, solutions, and partnerships, tailoring our approach to each country's unique needs. Due to South Africa’s strong regulatory system and the improved approval timelines of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), South Africa is often the first SSA market where we introduce new products. We are working closely with regulators in SSA and FSA to explore opportunities for accelerated approvals in these markets, especially in oncology where a huge unmet need exists. We partner extensively with healthcare stakeholders to understand how products are received and to implement innovations through protocols, scopes of work, and proof of concepts. To ensure a strategic approach, we emphasize the importance of aligning concepts with appropriate countries, fostering discussions, brainstorming, creativity, and demonstrating proof of concept. This paves the way for targeted entry into prioritized sub-Saharan African markets.  

EF: What distinct initiatives are AstraZeneca undertaking in each region? 

DA: An ambitious initiative, Cancer Care Africa, aims to bridge treatment gaps across the continent. We aim to raise awareness and collaboration. Central to this initiative is our commitment to leave no patient behind. We're partnering with societies and primary care physicians to co-create a stronger cancer care ecosystem in Africa, together with external partners, to enhance diagnostics and innovative cancer treatments. Recognizing the critical role of primary care, we're enhancing physician education through cross-border collaboration, learning from each other’s experiences is better for patients and healthcare budgets. Through Cancer Care Africa we are creating an educational bridge between healthcare professionals in Egypt and Kenya who work on lung and other cancers, with thousands of healthcare workers benefitting from in-person and virtual peer-to-peer learning, which it is hoped can eventually be replicated across the continent. Our collaboration with Aga Khan University in Kenya to support the installation of eGFR (estimated glomerular filtration rate) testing has paved the way for efficient, cost-effective testing in Kenya, drastically reducing response times. Prior to the installation of the eGFR testing machine, patients in need of eGFR testing had to rely on laboratories in South Africa, Egypt & India, leading to potential delays in receiving critical information for their treatment plans. Through the Cancer Care Africa initiative, we have also introduced a patient access programme in partnership with Axios, aimed at improving the affordability of innovative oncology therapy in Kenya, allowing more patients to benefit from the medication and receive the necessary support.  

In Johannesburg, we stand among the top four global companies in R&D clinical trials. Our South African hub currently orchestrates over 12 clinical studies spanning over 100 sites. The insights gathered here are the foundation for our expansion into other parts of the continent. We recognize the need for tailored approaches, considering demographic variations and each country's unique challenges. In South Africa, our focus has extended to generating real-world evidence. We're exploring unchartered territory where data is scarce. Before embarking on new clinical trials, we're pursuing real-world evidence studies and registries, a prime example being the Take Care of Me registry in South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. This endeavor seeks to illuminate the incidence and management of cardiovascular, renal, and metabolic conditions. We scrutinize patient journeys through these lenses, identifying gaps and propelling our quest to bolster diagnosis awareness and treatment. 

EF: What are your plans for the other regions, and what is next? In your discussion of prostate, lung, and breast cancer, do you consider these the top three priorities spanning all areas? 

DA: Indeed, our efforts extend beyond a single type of tumor. Cancer Care Africa's core commitment is to forge a robust, collaborative landscape for cancer care, regardless of tumor classification. Leveraging both our expertise and strategic partnerships, we address areas where we hold competency or can cultivate it. We aim to ensure patient access to innovative or established treatments such as the patient access programme introduced in Kenya in partnership with Axios. Cancer Care Africa operates on a threefold foundation. First, we champion awareness and diagnosis, fostering scalable solutions within research centers. Collaborative ventures with these centers and virtual initiatives with medical societies heighten physician awareness and accessibility to diagnostics, a pivotal step toward treatment initiation. 

Equally crucial is addressing the educational needs of both patients and caregivers. This often-neglected aspect completes the comprehensive circle of care. Cancer Care Africa's reach extends beyond medical treatment, embracing counseling and support for those battling cancer. This all-encompassing approach ensures that patients and their caregivers receive the holistic care they deserve. Cancer Care Africa has demonstrated its viability with a successful proof of concept in Egypt. Through impactful preceptorship programmes, Egyptian experts extended their knowledge to Kenyan counterparts, facilitating diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing patient management. This exchange, grounded in clinician-to-clinician interaction, embodies AstraZeneca's commitment to scalability and expertise dissemination. Once we have proof of concept of the programme in Kenya we will expand to other markets. By uniting countries and sharing best practices, we foster a network that streamlines efforts, avoiding duplication and maximizing impact. This interconnected approach propels Cancer Care Africa's mission forward with strategic unity and shared growth. 

EF: Could you elaborate on the initiatives planned for the current year? 

DA: We are in the process of continuously evolving our Phakamisa programme together with the Lung Ambition Alliance. Phakamisa is expanding into a holistic Program that incorporates Non-Communicable Diseases across AstraZeneca focus therapeutic Areas. In addition to respiratory and cardiovascular medicine, we're exploring the potential for AI-driven diagnostics and healthcare innovation in oncology. The unexpected catalyst of COVID-19 has accelerated our commitment to digitalization. We recognize AI's transformative role, ushering in an era of innovation that complements existing initiatives like Phakamisa. This synergy positions AI as a separate yet integrated pillar within our innovation ecosystem. The digital landscape that COVID-19 propelled us into serves as a dynamic platform for advancing these initiatives, ensuring they flourish and interconnect in previously uncharted ways. 

EF: Can you elaborate on the healthcare digitalization initiatives you're currently engaged in? 

DA: We have achieved a remarkable accomplishment by raising awareness and educating patients virtually. Programmes like Yes2 Life, Yes2Breathe, Yes2PUMUA and Yes2Nurture exemplify our commitment to making health education accessible to everyone. Collaborations in the realm of AI are a cornerstone of our innovation strategy. The alliance with AI platforms such as Medsol AI, Tricog, and Qure AI, operating within the A. Catalyst Africa Health Innovation Hub, reinforces our commitment to transformative innovation for Africa. These partnerships enable us to translate proven concepts from other regions and scale them effectively across the continent. This approach optimizes accessibility while minimizing the public or private sector healthcare burden. The result is enhanced reach and quality of care without undue strain on resources. 

EF: What role does the innovation hub have in increasing access, and what is its significance to the AstraZeneca group? 

DA: My enthusiasm for this endeavor stems from my previous role at AstraZeneca, India, where I witnessed the transformative potential of the A.Catalyst Health Innovation Hub. AstraZeneca is weaving together a dynamic network, both physical and virtual, marked by partnerships. At its core lies an unwavering commitment to patient-centric disease management and frugal innovation. Through the Innovation Hub, we have partnered with leading innovators, including Medsol AI, Tricog, and We are also committed to supporting entrepreneurship underscored by our partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering and Futurize’s Fuel Africa initiative. The South African-based Medsol AI team is addressing the pressing healthcare burden of breast cancer, through their Melusi Breast AI state-of-the-art Wi-Fi ultrasound technology. The AI device can help detect breast cancer in a matter of seconds and is being introduced into primary care clinics. The device offers virtual connectivity to experts, expediting accurate diagnoses and prompt treatment initiation. This innovative approach truncates diagnosis-to-treatment time by 50%, delivering a pivotal first point of contact for patients. Tricog, based in Kenya, enhances early diagnosis and treatment of heart failure using Tricog’s InstaECG AI tools.  In primary care centers, AI-driven technology swiftly detects and directs cardiac issues to appropriate care. This timely intervention proves instrumental in safeguarding lives, effectively preventing infections from turning fatal. 

Then there's our partnership with, another facet of our Health Innovation Hub. Employing AI prowess, we scrutinize X-rays to spot potential lung cancer indicators. This proactive approach, identifying malignancies with 88% accuracy, empowers early treatment and successful outcomes. These groundbreaking initiatives are all part of AstraZeneca's mission to uplift healthcare across sub-Saharan Africa and French-speaking Africa through the A. Catalyst Africa Health Innovation Hub. 

EF: What is an innovative way of capacity building in South Africa, and how South Africa and the broader African population be empowered with the skills required to engage in impactful roles within the healthcare sector? 

DA: Our team of 300 employees embodies diverse expertise, spanning decades-long veterans to fresh graduates from various backgrounds from pharmacy to engineering. The drive to maintain a thriving learning curve is crucial for engaging Generation Z. The Health Innovation Hub is a magnetic force for talent attraction, retention, and growth. Our strong ethical foundation, innovation focus, and comprehensive training initiatives distinguish us and create a vibrant work culture. Learning and Development (L&D) efforts are paramount, extending across regions and experience levels. From virtual platforms to mentorship programmes and hands-on projects like iCAN and Plan 100 development opportunities, we ensure talents are nurtured and empowered to excel in multiple domains. Our organization is proud of its recognition as a Top Employer in South Africa and Kenya as well as the gender empowered employer certification that underscores our commitment to female leadership and diversity. Over half of our workforce and 66% of our Senior Leaders are female, embodying our inclusivity ethos. 

Promoting a speak-up culture has been transformative. We've shifted from merely addressing concerns to nurturing innovation by fostering open dialogue. Regular virtual face-to-face open houses have become a cornerstone for sharing ideas and opinions, as even seemingly small ideas can evolve into game-changing innovations. This collective approach ensures that voices are heard, fostering a culture of innovation that benefits the organization and its employees. 

EF: Can you elaborate on your local collaborations? 

DA: The Edison Alliance and the 1 Billion Lives Challenge are standout collaborations that fill us with pride. This monumental endeavor to improve access to innovative and scalable digital health solutions by 2025, with a focus on underserved communities requires partnerships with companies, governments, and NGOs. We have the aspiration to screen five million patients for lung cancer using AI-based technology, in partnership with Qure AI. This ambitious goal isn't confined to screening alone. Our focus extends to fostering a comprehensive healthcare ecosystem. This entails shaping policies and white papers, ensuring education and diagnostics are accessible, even within the public sector, with the help of AI technologies.  

We are also taking bold action on climate because we recognize the interconnectivity between people and a healthy planet. In Africa we collaborate with communities, local governments, the Circular Bioeconomy Alliance (CBA), and local implementation partners in Ghana and Rwanda to establish green spaces. The agroforestry initiatives in Africa are part of our global AZ Forest reforestation and biodiversity commitment to plant 200 million trees by 2030, removing around 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over 30 years. This investment embodies our dedication to healthcare and environmental well-being, creating a positive legacy for future generations. 

EF: What achievement would you consider noteworthy to celebrate at the end of this year? 

DA: Our joy lies in our positive impact in patient lives, I look forward to working closely with my team to co-create health solutions that will leave a lasting legacy for AstraZeneca, touching people, society and planet. We also recognize that collaborating with a range of stakeholders is critical to maximizing our impact, we aim to forge enduring bonds with government, society, and across sectors.  

By year's end, I aspire to empower our employees, propelling them to new heights. Our larger vision involves expansion, talent development, and enduring succession planning.  

EF: Do you have any final message you want to deliver to our audience? 

DA: I must highlight the remarkable work of the Healthy Heart Africa programme. This flagship endeavor is a testament to our commitment to addressing non-communicable diseases, particularly hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The surge in cardiovascular diseases in Africa underscores the programme's significance. Through collaborations with African governments and NGOs, the Healthy Heart Africa initiative stands as a beacon of accessible healthcare. The programme focuses on increasing awareness of the symptoms and risks of hypertension, training providers and driving care to the lower levels of the healthcare system, and offering health education, screening, and reduced-cost treatment and control, as applicable. Our collective efforts have trained 10,600 healthcare workers,  activating over 1,300 healthcare facilities to provide hypertension services, and conducting over 38.5 million blood pressure screenings across our 9 countries of operation. In 2016, AstraZeneca and PEPFAR partnered to use hypertension as a stigma-free entry point to find and reach those who need HIV services by integrating hypertension services into existing HIV platforms. It expanded access to HIV/AIDS and hypertension services by offering them in an integrated manner at existing PEPFAR-supported HIV/AIDS sites. 

The core message resonates with the power of partnerships involving various local stakeholders, including public, private and faith-based facilities. It aims to create a paradigm shift, focusing not only on treatment but also on prevention. This monumental change hinges on collective action—uniting the public, influencers, physicians, and organizations to promote a preventive landscape, yielding a more profound impact on healthcare. 

September 2023