Read the Conversation
EF: 2020 was the year of diagnostics, and 2021 year of vaccines, what do you think 2022 will be the year of?
IW: Looking at the trends we will see the shaping change of the presence of non-communicable diseases, and COVID definitely put healthcare front and centre. It also highlighted deficiencies in healthcare in Africa which has this backup of surgery slides and patients not going to their screenings. We will continue seeing a shift and pivot whilst taking advantage of how to continue investing and leveraging investments by using diagnostics differently. The Ministry has invested in new instrumentation that was not just for COVID, but products that can do multiple molecular testing. We are bound to see shifts and a new wave of healthcare investment and provenance.
The other area, which will become quite prominent from a trend point of view is universal healthcare access which is in different shapes or forms because it was one of the gaps and highlighted the deficiencies in Africa.
EF: How can we leverage the lessons learned from the pandemic for going into the future?
IW: There are a couple of enforced changes. For the first time in a long time, the government and private sector came together to deliver patient care and support for the government either through funding, technology, and ultimately deliver faster care, and this is is a model to build on. Differences between the sectors were thrown out the window. For me, a partnership is the key to delivering healthcare in Africa and is an absolute key change to leverage.
The other area which became critical is how to utilize technology and infrastructure in the IT space which gives visibility, and most importantly, I think will force governments to think differently.
The next area is preparation for big health events, and as a country, we have to be ready to rapidly respond by working on the preparedness for a pandemic by training healthcare professionals and primary care personnel. The lesson here is on how to deal with those events on a large scale and use communication to elevate and change behaviours.
EF: Do you think that people are more aware of their health, and has COVID-19 increased awareness?
IW: It has definitely increased patient awareness. The fact that somebody would say, "I don't want this type of vaccine not because I'm anti-vaccine but because this is my consideration of my immune system". People are now making decisions based on the information they have looked at from a research point of view. One of the areas that have become absolutely critical is that ministries of health need to be seen as credible in terms of what they do in healthcare. This is achieved by developing the credibility to make them a trusted communicators who is a trusted body of knowledge. Communication has become critical in this digital era.
EF: How is South Africa adapting to digitalization and technology outside of COVID?
IW: From a diagnostics and instrument patient point of view, we have a lot of high-end technology, but purely because of the ITO digital infrastructure. What is quite interesting is that we are probably now having discussions and realizing opportunities from a commercial point of view with some of the large healthcare providers, be it, lab groups or hospital groups.
We are now rolling our pipeline in accordance with some of the gaps that we have with healthcare professionals or nurses by using technology and automation as the bridge through hand. We are also realizing opportunities around efficiency gains using automation, using predictable data coming from systems to inform healthcare decisions.
In BD, we use the term connected care. Just prior to COVID, there was an investment of electronic records that track a patient in your system, whether they go from one hospital to another irrespective of whether they have a paper file or not. We are starting to see changes and a much more accelerated adoption right now, from a commercial point of view there is much more readiness to unlock budget and funding in that space and the investments to make that happen in the short to medium.
EF: Is there any campaign or education program that you're working on in South Africa to create awareness of the importance of technology?
IW: There are a variety of initiatives in this area. There's the B2B bucket in making a hospital and lab run more efficiently using clinical digital tools. Before COVID, I would never get my lab result on my phone app, I had to physically go to a doctor, now it's different.
The other adoption which I see in terms of technology is the utilization of wearables. For example, Discovery is looking at monitoring patients on the outside side of hospital care where your treatment no longer only happens in a hospital. This is a digital proponent that is probably where the next wave of communication and awareness is going because it adds relevance using technology so one can focus on the patient rather than the backend.
EF: Can you elaborate on how BD is assisting in the early prevention and diagnostics of non-communicable diseases?
IW: Looking at technology and connected care, there are two areas which are top of mind. There is the area around NSDs and AMR, anti-microbial resistance. These will be some of the biggest drivers of healthcare costs going forward. We are seeing the adoption of automation in microbiology labs and the adoption of robotics automation using IT technology.
In the NSDs space, we see gaps in the oncology screening space, especially in women's health and cancer. We have been creating more communication awareness around this and a faster turnaround time of results with extended genotyping in cervical cancer, and these have all accelerated opportunities where they are not entrenched in clinical practice.
We also have significant changes in profiling of risk, managing risk, and then intervening in terms of treating the patient sooner. In Africa we see a lot of patients missing their follow-ups which increases their risk of un-detecting a disease. So having this follow-up and identifying risk space and using technology is really critical in addressing preventable cancer, and using technology to use that is really critical.
EF: How do you see infrastructure impacting the economy?
IW: The biggest thing I saw at the start of COVID was probably having a new infectious disease happen and three months later you have millions of tests happening globally for a test that nobody was testing before. As a diagnostic company to have a COVID test available in most countries, was a phenomenal feat. Looking at the future from a healthcare point of view, the economy is returning to normal. Using diagnostics to get the economy guide is really critical. One of the changes, which is probably different in South Africa is the introduction of antigen testing for COVID, and the technology part in terms of opening up the economy.
The other area is one of the shifts we have seen post-COVID. Ministries of health are looking at different KPIs regarding their success in healthcare management. We have a high investment in healthcare, but we do not necessarily have the best outcomes. Using technology to drive those outcomes supports the revival of the economy, patients getting less sick, and expanded extension of life expectancy.
EF: How do you see South Africa as a potential healthcare hub for the African continent?
IW: Healthcare capacitation within the rest of Africa is a challenge because there is such a gap in terms of healthcare delivery, depending on which country you go to in Africa. Africa is in a fantastic position where we have both the capacity as well as the infrastructure in a doctrine of new technology. The ability to export best practices and act as training grants, because we have some of the best health facilities, not just in Africa, but globally, anywhere from a tech adoption. That is really where South Africa is, we have a big role to play in adding to the healthcare capacitation across the continent.
Right now, there is this focus on localization and manufacturing in Africa, and Africa can do that. But we should not be holding everything close to our chest. It is about how to share and train and we have that in East and West Africa. South Africa can lead that process because they have the ability to leapfrog other countries. After all, they already have the level of infrastructure. But it has to be shared, it has to be created as a universal approach to improving healthcare across the continent.
EF: If you could choose three strategies for employee engagements, what would they be?
IW: Firstly, decisions should not be just determined by the head of the company, not only top leadership can decide what's best for everyone, and make sure that you're inclusive in your approach in assessing where you want to go and what you're supposed to need. Don't assume because you think they need it, that's what they need. You need to have a critical engagement.
The next part of the strategy is to take the best from a pre-COVID work setup and apply the learnings. COVID taught me that I can trust an employee can deliver without having to sit in the office.
Investment in virtual tools, making sure that employees can manage their flexibility in work and home-life balance, needs to be part of the strategy going forward.
The other area, which is quite interesting for us, at the start of next month, we're moving into new offices. One of our key strategies is redefining our office workspace by way of how it adds value proposition, compared to what we had before COVID. We're also looking at empowering the organization by being transparent with our associates and not being distracted by potential mishaps which have increased how associates have embraced the culture.
EF: When you are hiring new employees, what are your new skillset criteria?
IW: We have always said that communication is key, but the ability to communicate and influence when you're not seeing somebody is important. How you communicate and lead in a virtual environment is critical because we're not going to be travelling to see associates as often as we did.
The other part is utilization from a digital tool's point of view as we have used data during COVID in a way which we've never needed to do before. The employees that we have hired in the last six months are now doing things we have never asked associates to do before because we could find the information somewhere, but now I want it on a dashboard, and I want it ready now, it's a safer, faster strategy. The last skill set I would touch on is the ability to be an empathetic leader.
EF: What are you going to celebrate at the end of this year that you've achieved?
IW: The thing which strikes a chord for me right now is when associates speak to me and say, "I understand BD’s purpose. I understand why I want to work for you as a company". That for me is a success, that through difficult times, you've maintained the purpose and the culture within the organization.
The second part is we have seen an expansion of our business. In the near term post-COVID, we've had products recalled, but we have still maintained that customer credibility, which allows us to actually expand into new areas within our customer base. That speaks about what I am proud of and why we will continue to be successful, that we have stood by our customers and patients during these trying times.