Read the Conversation
EF: What was your given mission when appointed Cluster Lead for Peru and Ecuador in February 2020?
EP: When I was appointed, my mission was to optimize business for Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. A month into the role Covid was full swing, and everything changed. I was supposed to be travelling from New York to Peru in March, but at the time Peru and Ecuador closed borders, therefore I became a virtual country manager, managing the organization remotely from New York. Closing borders was a good decision from both countries, taking action sooner rather than later is good, but for us this meant a lot of decisions had to be taken every hour with alarming information coming from Asia and with an unaffected Latin America. The decisions weren’t easy to make, but closing the office and taking our people out of the field was the right call, looking back we took a rather conservative approach opting to protect our colleagues when the right decision wasn’t a clear cut. I think Pfizer took very good decisions based on protecting the health and well-being of all the company employees, both on a psychological and financial level. We didn’t cut jobs or made salary cuts and provided psychological support. We have platforms that would give advice and help in exercising at home, we also offered tele-health to continue with the treatments needed without putting our people at risk and we also tried to shape the external environment to allow for increased protection. In cases we were still being asked to go to the different institutions to sign contracts on a face to face basis even during lockdown and we insisted on digital signatures at that stage, refusing to send our people to the institutions and putting them at risk for bureaucratic reasons. I understand all our healthcare and pharma colleagues in the region helped shaping the environment in this aspect as well making a point of protecting the well-being of the populations of the different countries. We needed to be role models in this sense for our communities as indeed we were and continue to be.
EF: What are the lessons learnt from managing three different countries, at a distance, through a pandemic?
EP: It worked out very well even with us all working from home, it didn’t matter where we were physically, in my case I could have been in Peru, New York or China and it wouldn’t have mattered as we were all in contact virtually. There was of course a learning curve at the beginning to work remotely but we did have an advantage because as a cluster we already had a virtual way of working so for us the curve was accelerated because we already had some practice. Today for me it is almost as if we were together at the office, we are at a level where having a meeting virtually or face to face is practically the same, the challenge will be when we start coming back and have half our employees at home and half at the office and the interaction won’t be even. Maybe, remote, is not an arrangement we can keep long term but is working now because we are all under the same conditions.
EF: Given your background, what would be your advice to keep up the interest and momentum in healthcare investment after the pandemic is over?
EP: Consultancy is always based on facts and taking facts into account provides a conclusion, and for me the facts are very clear. When there is a weak healthcare system the impact of Covid, or a similar crisis, in the society and the economy is huge, so investing in healthcare is a must. More than ever it is clear that decisions on budget allocations to health care made in the past are making things much more difficult in the present. This is not a situation unique to Latam it happens at a world level and healthcare systems are not prepared to deal with a pandemic such as we have, not even in the US and Europe. To protect our people is of course enough of a reason to change but because the impact on the economy is huge I think in general we do more to protect the financial system than we do to protect the healthcare structure and systems of the countries. Healthcare can also bring opportunities for development for the country, Peru and Ecuador are small countries but they could still be hubs of innovation if they had an environment that could attract the healthcare business as a whole with universities and research centers, prioritizing important launches in the country because it is easier to implement something big in a small scale but the governments need to think big to make it happen.
EF:What are the priorities in your agenda, what is tactic, what is strategic?
EP: Now it is urgent to decide when our employees will return to the office, it is urgent to ensure continuity of supply of our products to the patients. We are seeing a huge impact overall in both Peru and in Ecuador from the lack of healthcare products and healthcare itself, the supply of oncological products and chronic diseases being affected, there are patients that are not even being diagnosed and others are not getting their treatments. As a result we are pushing to solve the basic issues and urgencies of getting the products to the patients, providing and supplying medication for the increased demands of hospitals and continuing to supply the countries with reliability. It is a good opportunity for us to create awareness on the importance of the healthcare ecosystem and I think we will now have a better seat at the table with the government to discuss being partners in the health endeavor. The pandemic has left a learning to governments and populations alike that the healthcare industry can be their partner, we have the same goal, our mission is to provide a good and healthy life to the people, we are on their and the government’s side, so together we must create the necessary networks to have a discussion on the importance of healthcare moving forward.
EF: What is your current footprint in the cluster and what is its contribution to PFIZER´s operations?
EP: We have been 55 years in Peru, 64 years in Ecuador and in Bolivia we operate through partners . In between the three countries we have 200 colleagues and products in several categories: oncology, vaccines, inflammation, immunology, internal medicine, rare disease, a very robust pipeline with all our world categories present in the cluster. The contribution to PFIZER global is small due to the size of the population of the cluster but even so our mission is to bring breakthrough innovation which will change patients’ lives, no matter how big the market is. One of our main values is equity, for every person in the world to have the opportunity of a healthier life through access to our medication. Our decisions are not only about revenue but about making innovation available to everybody at a world level.
EF: What is your personal definition of access?
EP: Access for me is having the opportunity of the best treatment at the appropriate time. The challenge with the government is that they see access as a threat for their healthcare sustainability but it shouldn’t be because we are not bringing products that are not vendible for the people and for the government. If the right treatment is used on the right person and at the right time lives are saved or improved allowing them to be productive in the workforce. There is a saving in the long term, even if a modern drug for oncology is far more expensive than an old one, the patients are less time in hospital or more productive sooner as the patient doesn’t have to deal with side effects of an old drug. It is the same or even worse with biologicals where the same efficacy and safety must be proven, so investing in low quality treatments is the same as throwing money away.
EF: Vaccines always involve public-private partnerships so what would be your insight on developing them?
EP: These partnerships must be decided at a technical level, but they are usually made at a political level and the result is that the deals announced don’t really produce the needed content and outcomes. To produce the best deal for the country the right governance is necessary, having very strong institutions, regulatory agencies, technical expertise within the Ministry of Health and a strong vaccines technical committee. If the institutions are strong the decisions made are not political and are for the good of the country. Any pharma or healthcare company would be interested in this sort of partnership with the government especially with a thought out serious framework in place. Peru in my opinion is a very good environment for business in general; the government recognizes and understands the importance of the private sector and its contribution to the country more so than in other Latin American countries. Having the framework that allows us to know what to expect contributes to a good working environment between government and the private sector and we can deliver value to the population. I am proud to add that PFIZER has always complied and fulfilled all the agreements it has entered into with the governments of many countries in its dealing with vaccines, and I know this for a fact due to my previous dealings in vaccines.
EF: What would be your advice to other Latin American women in positions of leadership, or in the world for that matter?
EP: I think we demand too much of ourselves, we strive to be the perfect professional, the perfect mum, the perfect wife and friend and it just is not possible, so I think we need to be clear on what is possible and feasible. I could not be where I am if I didn’t have the support of my family. I think there needs to be a conscious decision of what we want to do and how far we are prepared to go, and if we decide for the career a lot of support will be necessary, support with the kids, the house because it is not possible to do everything, the only reason I am here is because my husband has supported me along the way.
EF: What would you like your 2020 tenure to be remembered for?
EP: I would like 2020 to be remembered as the year the pharmaceutical industry changed the game forever, to have been the ones that brought the solution to a world with a pandemic and that this change would be definite. Not as a onetime solution, I don’t want to go back to the status quo; I think we have a great opportunity to reposition the whole pharmaceutical industry to be at another level from this year on. I have been working for PFIZER for almost 17 years and the main reason I have stayed so long is that it is a very fulfilling job, I really feel I am doing something good for humanity, I am very proud of my work and of PFIZER because we truly bring value to people.