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EF: You have been a Health Professional, a Hospital Administrator, a Medical Director and Ambassador of RSA. What was the mission you were given when appointed as the CEO of IPASA?
KS: My primary mandate was to find common ground and ways to work together with the government and, most importantly, rebuild the trust with them. As there had been an issue about intellectual property policy, my task was to work on improving relations between us. South Africa should be a major player in healthcare, and the only way to do this is by working with the government. As I have held various positions within the private and public sectors, I was comfortable with the mission as I am familiar with both sides and both perspectives and could argue for the existence of pharma and why the government needs them to build a healthy and prosperous South Africa.
EF: What are top priorities in your agenda today?
KS: Currently, I would say access to medicine is a top priority. Access includes affordability and pricing and presently, we have a very rigid pricing regime so one of our main objectives is to find and create flexibility within the system. Today, 80% of South Africans are on generics which is a huge segment, so a very small percentage consume “expensive medicines” which means that most of our people don’t have access to real innovations. Additionally, the National Health Insurance (NHI) is a big investment, but there is no mention of innovative medicines. Our aim is to change this.
EF: In relation to the African continent, South Africa is in a position to step up the continent’s agenda. Can you give us more parameters of what the country is trying to accomplish in the continent?
KS: Although there are other countries in Africa with excellent research and development centers with incredible scientists, South Africa is far more advanced because of our better infrastructure, well-developed hospitals, and scientists. Generally speaking, we are ahead of other countries in the region.
EF: What does access mean to you? Could you define access for us?
KS: Personally, access means everybody who needs a drug or medical device or technology, can have access to it. From the public sector to any small village, technology should be readily available and accessible in clinics and there should be standardization to ensure efficient management, proper procurement, and adequate distribution of supplies. Currently, there are places where there aren’t basics like thermometers, so it is more about administration, commitment, and dedication to safekeeping, proper planning, and education. Of course, things have to be affordable, but it is not only about cost but about having the right mix. For example, having one mammogram machine in a district clinic where everybody can go and have access. The investment in basic, primary care and infrastructure are the building blocks to a successful NHI. We have to change the infrastructure so that no adult or child has to travel 10 km to the health center to get attended. We must start at the foundation and build up from there.
EF: What are the key challenges your member companies face in South Africa?
KS: Most are regulatory. In my opinion, it causes hindrance and denies patient access. Because of these regulatory issues, many companies have had to cancel their pipeline, which resulted in patients being denied access to well-needed drugs. In an effort to rectify this, we have been engaging in dialogue with the newly appointed government authorities for the last six months, however, we are disappointed with the results so far. Our main priority is to get the medications where they are needed and not on irrelevant topics like lost dossiers. We are fully aware of the course of their challenges and are doing all we can to serve as an industry to support them.
EF: What is your position on National Health Insurance (NHI)?
KS: It is an opportunity for transformation, for building from the foundation and getting our house in order.
EF: Could you talk about the pharma industry triple bottom line?
KS: Few people are aware of the contribution that pharmaceutical companies make to human welfare. Not only do their medicines save lives, but it also improves health and enhances the quality of life, while reducing overall healthcare costs. Besides the value of the medicines we bring to the market, we train physicians, healthcare workers, and contribute hugely to the economic development of this country and a healthy planet. The industry invests billions a year to find new chemical entities, which is a considerable contribution because we find ways of diagnosing quickly and creating preventive medicine. We create a virtuous cycle of life.