Read the Conversation

EF: As a company that invests heavily in health, what is important to consider when investing in healthcare in Africa? 

JN: To achieve success in the healthcare industry, it is crucial to embrace diversity. Companies with a diverse portfolio have an advantage over highly specialized ones, especially during unprecedented times such as a pandemic. The ability to quickly respond to the rapidly evolving demands of customers, and provide necessary medicines when needed, is crucial in navigating through such challenges. Therefore, it is essential for healthcare companies to focus on developing a diverse portfolio and the ability to rapidly respond to changing market demands to ensure the availability of critical medicines, and to be successful in the long run. 

The portfolio has performed differently during the pandemic, for example, demand for antimalarials decreased, as people were not crossing borders. Starting an organization in South Africa requires a lot of investment and strategic planning, for example, the need to have your own energy supply, to have a diverse range of suppliers, and robust systems to prevent cyberattacks, among others. If you are entering the market, it is better to invest in existing infrastructure and build on that, than to create one from scratch.  

EF: What are the priorities in 2023? 

JN: As a leading provider of high-quality pharmaceuticals, we plan to expand our global footprint to new geographies and therapies. As any sustained growth requires a significant commitment to investment, Acino remains committed to investing in new product offerings, manufacturing capabilities as well as future drug development, to ensure we deliver greater value and a more positive impact on the communities where we operate. With headquarters in Switzerland, and as part of the healthcare and life sciences portfolio of an Abu Dhabi-based investment and holding company, greater levels of growth and innovation across the pharma value chain will be achieved. 

EF: Acino in the UAE recently integrated with Pharmax. What does it mean for Acino? 

JN: Pharmax has been integrated into Acino in the UAE to improve patient access by leveraging local manufacturing and supply of medicines.  The combined company will be able to leverage synergies across main therapeutic areas and share best practices, advancing product development capabilities and further strengthening Acino’s global commercial performance. As history has shown us, the ability to maintain a seamless supply chain and cost control is essential for sustainable success.  

EF: What are the key strategies to ensure Acino's long-term viability in Africa?  

JN: Our strategy centers around placing the patient at the core, providing access to medicines, and addressing issues of diversity and inclusion. This holistic approach ensures that our strategy is heading in the right direction. We believe that our success is due to not isolating ourselves from the rest of the world and adopting this approach. We have launched several new products that are not highly specialized and are aimed at a smaller patient base. 

We always strive to address the biggest challenges facing healthcare systems in sub-Saharan Africa and other emerging markets. Success comes from identifying these challenges, building a sustainable strategy, and diversifying your portfolio to contain both generics and innovations that satisfy the needs of the market. I am responsible for Acino Africa, which covers sub-Saharan Africa and French West Africa. Our success in the first quarter of 2023 is largely due to the lessons we learned from 2020 to 2022. 

EF: What role do you want South Africa to play on the corporate map?  

JN: South Africa can play a positive role in contributing to the other countries in the region where we operate in terms of access to medicine. We are in countries where it is important to have more than one product and more than one distribution channel. It is important to enhance access and get into rural as well as urban centres. 

The strategy we want to achieve is to put the right infrastructure in place and establish the right partnerships, this way we can deliver the products where they are needed. In South Africa, we are a very diverse company and have a range of drugs, from specialized to generic. We have over-the-counter products, a cosmetic range, and a small device company that is playing a very prominent role on the African continent because we are not restricting our manufacturing to South Africa. 

EF: How does Acino in Africa ensure quality and position itself as a respectable and reliable partner across Africa? 

JN: Partnering with Acino means extending your partnership beyond commercial agreements. We provide regulatory, quality, legal compliance, and medical support, as well as finance and supply chain management. A holistic and responsible approach to quality control is essential to achieving the desired outcomes for the patient, and all departments, from commercial to supply chain to regulatory, must understand its importance. 

EF: Acino in South Africa has been recognized as a top employer. What advice would you give to other companies to become top employers? 

JN: Senior management's support and understanding are crucial for successful transformation and attaining Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (BBBEE) certification. Our company has maintained BBBEE Level 1 certification for four consecutive years, showcasing our commitment. We prioritize hiring the best candidates and offer various programs to drive transformation, including a learnership program. 

Each year, we enroll eight to twelve graduates in our learnership program. They have shown remarkable growth, progressing from single degrees to honours degrees. These talented individuals contribute valuable insights, and we provide them with meaningful work to foster learning and development. We actively seek their feedback on areas like our website and social media, benefiting from their fresh perspectives. Their willingness to voice opinions is highly valued as it aligns with our culture of openness. 

We are dedicated to training the next generation of employees and managers, successfully recruiting them for various positions within the organization on a full-time basis. This commitment plays a pivotal role in becoming a top employer. It requires conscious investment, the appointment of capable leaders, and empowering them to drive transformation. Ultimately, our desire and determination to succeed underpin these efforts. 

EF: Can you elaborate on how you are raising awareness of your initiative to integrate the youth in the healthcare industry through the YES program to make South Africa a powerhouse? 

JN:  For years, we have actively participated in the YES initiative, recognizing its value in job creation and economic stimulation. Encouraging more companies to embrace this initiative would significantly enhance its success. 

As a multinational company operating in South Africa, we understand the importance of acting local. The country's electricity shortages necessitate the adoption of alternative power sources like generators and solar panels. In terms of localization, we prioritize job creation through our secondary packaging project. By focusing on areas where external companies may not have the expertise, such as secondary packaging facilities, we contribute to meeting South Africa's specific needs. 

This approach serves as a starting point for our involvement in manufacturing, aligning with the investments made by other South African companies. However, commitment and time are essential for the successful implementation of this process. 

EF: What would be the necessary steps from the public and private sectors to have a national health insurance system in South Africa? 

JN: A successful national health system requires a partnership between the private sector and the government, leveraging their respective strengths. Collaboration should focus on key areas to improve healthcare and access to medicines. The effective distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccinations through a government-private sector partnership demonstrates its potential. 

Achieving a balanced healthcare system involves combining a privately insured market with a government-funded national health system. The private market offers options and choices, while the national system acts as a safety net for those without private insurance, emphasizing preventive care and public health initiatives. Striking a middle ground through public-private partnerships ensures access to basic healthcare for all, complemented by private insurance for additional services. A comprehensive approach is essential to cater to the diverse needs of individuals and achieve a successful healthcare system. 

July 2023