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EF: Your background is mostly in policy, what motivated you to go into the private sector, why Eurolab, and how are you adjusting? 

GS: While looking at what had to be addressed in the environment for NHI to work, I found Eurolab to be a highly innovative company in many ways. Many of the business strategies offer platforms to help reach the balance between improving access and making profit. The job of a company is to maximize profit for their shareholders. A healthy environment requires altruistic perspectives, bringing innovative medicines, and new technologies that fuel the value proposition.

EF:  Is NHI an opportunity or a challenge? What are the key points that need to be considered? 

GS: The question is not when -  it is how. The middle class’s affordability of private healthcare is eroding. The reason why we haven’t seen this in the public platform yet is that they are going from a comprehensive package to a less comprehensive package. There are situations where Discovery won’t pay for oral contraceptives, but they will pay for a Cesarean section, they won’t pay for your child’s immunization, but they will pay for your hospitalization. These are fundamental problems of our health system. Unfortunately, the public sector is very insufficient. When you don’t want to stand in a queue, you will pay money out of your pocket in order to receive the needed medical care. What’s happening now is similar to rearranging a chessboard where there has not yet been any strategic moves. This will change - we need to look very carefully into how to best rearrange things and create transparency between the government and the industries. We need positive engagement between both. 

EF:  What does access means to you? 

GS: First it is about affordability, a complex issue in and of itself. The second aspect is geographical accessibility, the third being the availability of preventive health services. Finally, the importance of comfortability and preferences, small things like the meals served in hospitals, the entertainment which is offered. Important points in access are early diagnostics, screening and prevention. Unfortunately, there are difficulties when looking at the public sector. When receiving treatment inside an urban environment when you are coming from a rural environment, people often get so tired of traveling and waiting that one third abandon treatment. 

EF: What are the solutions you have in mind? 

GS: Globally, access to oncology care is limited. We need infrastructure and processes to change in order to get people access to treatment even in rural areas. Our strategy is to identify drugs coming out of patents and to get them into the market. We have become the largest generic oncology player by understanding patient needs. We still want to improve the value of our offering, address the unknown, and develop value propositions that speak to the public sector and where NHI will be. 

EF:  Are there any problems you experienced having been on the other side? 

GS: Yes, attitude differences in both sectors. If we are not the captains of our own destiny, we will be victims of our own environment. We are competitors by nature, as an industry we need to construct dialogue by building trust between one another. It is in the best interest of health that we work together. We have to understand what our common shared strengths are and keep our competitive streak out.

EF:  Do you think other sectors and business executives understand the complexity of running a pharma company?  

GS: No -  when the public sector does not understand the private sector and the private sector does not understand the public sector, how can different sectors understand the complexity? I designed the CCFD program with the Minister of Health, and it took us 4 years to get the program running. We reached 2 million people, we helped them save time. It worked for both the public and private sectors. The broader industry has to go through the same learnings as those between the private and public healthcare systems. Working together will help foster mutual understanding between different sectors.

EF:  Is there any final message you would like to tell?

GS: The industrial revolution is important, it is not just about policy but also about improving supply chain efficiency. At the moment, the public sector has too much capital on the shelf. They are stockpiling units, and as a result budget problems are created. As an industry, we have to look at who can bring solutions, as there are a lot of lessons to be learned. Having been in this environment for over a decade, it became very clear to me how important logistics and supply chain are. We need more supply chain engineers than pharmacists now to improve the healthcare industry. 

December 2019
South Africa