Read the Conversation
EF: If 2020 was the year of diagnostics and prevention, and 2021 was the year of vaccines, what do you think 2022 will be the year of and why?
PFL: I would call 2022 a year of transformation. Two years of great loss opened many doors for us to deliver solutions and look for multiple ways to develop into the future. We became aware of all the opportunities over the two previous years, both as an industry and a society.
EF: Considering Novo Nordisk's overall operations, what are the contributions and importance of Latin America and, specifically, Colombia to the group?
PFL: For Novo Nordisk, Latin America is the region that contributes the most growth and provides huge opportunities. The region has taken huge steps in advancing access to healthcare, and for us, this is the place to invest and cause an impact on the patients' lives. During the pandemic, the region was slower to react initially, but we managed to vaccinate 75% of the population faster than anybody thought possible. Novo Nordisk understands the impact we can accomplish on the patients' lives. Colombia was one of the countries that proved that results could be achieved by coming together.
EF: Could you elaborate on Novo Nordisk's footprint in the country and how you expect it to grow over the next five or ten years with the potential in Colombia?
PFL: We have been in Colombia for ten years, and over this time, we have become one of the twenty leading companies in the country. In 2019 we had 100 employees, and today we have over 200, our footprint is growing very quickly, and I am most proud of the impact we are leaving in Colombia. Sustainability is our priority, and we have been implementing beautiful projects over the past three years; in Bogotá, we are joining the program Cities Changing Diabetes, a Global partnership with UNICEF for preventing obesity in Children. We have been working with the health secretaries of Bogota, Medellin, and Barranquilla on multiple activities ranging from bicycle counters in the cities, understanding the prevalence of diseases such as diabetes and developing plans with the different Health Secretaries to implement our projects. We look for food deserts in the cities and work with the Danish embassy and other global partners to generate action and interventions to provide solutions. We not only bring technologies but leave a footprint in prevention and sustainability in Colombia. We also have a project to recycle plastics and use them to make furniture. We are very proud of where our Danish heritage has brought us.
EF: To what extent are diabetes, obesity, and other NCDs the new and silent pandemic? How big is this issue, and what are you doing to fight it?
PFL: In Colombia, one in every two people is overweight, and 18% of the population is obese -a very high number. A definite post-pandemic positive is the new awareness and increased knowledge of obesity and how it can impact the lives of those affected. It is not a matter of aesthetics but a disease. Changing that perception is the first step to facing many other diseases, such as diabetes. We have a long-standing "Truth about weight" campaign for disease awareness. We work on informing the general population on the importance of good habits, diet, and exercise and offer psychological help to control the disease. We have partnered with UNICEF to measure obesity in children. In Latin America, we talk a lot about malnutrition. Still, obesity is becoming a huge problem mainly due to food deserts -not being able to access healthy food or not knowing about healthy habits and the importance of exercise. Partnering with UNICEF, we tackle this modern-day Colombian issue. We work with the main medical societies to increase disease awareness and educate on the importance of managing your weight so as not to develop other diseases that come with being overweight. During the pandemic, there were setbacks with diabetes, mainly due to people staying home and not doing controls and treatments. We must tackle obesity to avoid developing other diseases; fortunately, things are moving in the right direction. In Barranquilla and Bogota, we have a project in prevention which I hope will soon be in place to prevent the advance of other diseases. We have an excellent prevention initiative in mind for the country's borders for the early identification of diseases in Venezuelan migrants, managed by the Colombian healthcare system.
EF: Partnerships between Latin America's private and public sectors are rare. Could you elaborate on the power of partnerships and what they can do for the region regarding access and affordability?
PFL: Partnerships are a big part of our cultural heritage; Novo Nordisk's company culture promotes them. It is not about being commercial; it is bout being present and responsible in every country we work. Novo Nordisk is very active in collaborating in the countries where it has a presence; it is an important milestone for the company. Collaboration and sustainability are our key priorities, we cannot do anything alone, or in the best of cases, the impact would be much reduced. We can do so much more coming together with other stakeholders than as individuals. We understand our area of expertise, and the Ministry of Health understands the population and has the means to get them to commit. The Danish Embassy is an excellent partner for us in Colombia; it knows what Denmark is doing and has connections. We all work together to bring important initiatives for a major impact, something we would never achieve working alone.
EF: What is the role of healthcare infrastructure in growing the economy of developing nations such as Colombia?
PFL: The role of healthcare is essential; we must work on two main objectives, prevention and the coming together of stakeholders. Prevention makes for a healthy and productive population, and we concentrate our efforts on the prevention strategies of NCDs to reduce future health issues. Many diseases that weren't prevalent ten years ago, such as diabetes and cancers, are today affecting the country's workforce creating a lack of productivity. To create a more sustainable healthcare system for the country, we must work on prevention, and all the stakeholders must work together. Colombia lacks co-creation, and the government, the pharma industry, and the HMOs can all bring knowledge to the table. We are good at innovation, have a clinical background, and invest in education; the government knows the population and has the budget. We must come together to bring solutions for a sustainable health system –our common goal. There has been a general lack of trust in the past, but if we can build trust channels where we can all work together, Colombian society and the economy will benefit.
EF: What does access mean to you from a Colombian perspective, and how will digitalization and new technologies affect access in the coming years?
PFL: Access includes all we can do to serve the patient to have the best prevention, treatments, and services possible. To make this happen, all the stakeholders must all work together. We all have a role to play in providing better access to patients. Due to a lack of trust between the public and private sectors, we have worked in a fragmented way. We need to find the means to connect the pieces and identify the barriers that stand in the way of achieving a complete system. If we don't, the patients will suffer the consequences of not having access to healthcare. Digitalization for a country is how we advance and manage information, take advantage of this modern era, and use it for the progress of the community. We have grown in understanding where the patients are concerned as part of the system. We are utilizing digitalization to bring solutions in the form of access, a key asset of digitalization and our key priority in Colombia.
EF: When you took on your new role at Novo Nordisk, what goals did you want to achieve?
PFL: My first and foremost goal is to impact patients' lives. I know we can improve patients' lives, and when I look back at my time in this role, I want to know I changed things. For example, we have increased awareness and knowledge of the impact of obesity on a patient's life and made a difference in their understanding of the disease. The same goes for diabetes and haemophilia. Secondly, I would love to be a role model for my colleagues. From the beginning of my career, I have been passionate about gender equality and opening paths for women to realize they can develop a career and do whatever they choose. I want my people to know I stand for diversity and inclusion and for women to feel they can succeed in leadership management.
EF: You have worked in a med-tech company, a rare diseases company, and a non-communicable disease company. Can you elaborate on how you manage the diversity of the different companies?
PFL: The changes have helped me become more inclusive. Inclusiveness might be seen as gender-driven or race-driven, but for me, inclusiveness means understanding different points of view and being ok with them. Be open to new ideas, see the whole picture, keep your mind and heart connected, and be open to whatever comes. Having worked in different healthcare companies, disease areas, and countries enabled me to be open to people's ideas, opportunities, and cultures. I have had the gift of listening to people and experiencing doing it, which is empowering.
EF: What would be your advice to the younger generation of women interested in following a career in the health industry?
PFL: A woman's first barrier is her head. We tend first to say no before yes! We imagine difficulties in moving a family to another country, a husband's reluctance, and the upheaval in the lives of small children -we tend to create issues that mostly have solutions. My advice is to say yes and then figure it out. Think of the possibilities and not the barriers! Now that the world has gone digital, with flexible spaces, we can think of how to get there. Secondly, be yourself, which sounds like ridiculous advice, but we always try to be like men. I want to achieve my objectives just as I am. Despite liking purses and shoes, I can still show I am smart in a conversation. You can be yourself and still get leadership positions in a company. My advice is to be comfortable and confident in your skin. Finally, be present, and sit at the table, whether you consider yourself ready or not. Women think they are never prepared, but nobody is ready for "the next one." We all learn as we move up and arrive at new positions. We must believe in our potential; if we have it, we will make it. And this is true not only for women but for men as well. One is never ready for the next role, which is why it is called the next role. That is how it is supposed to be. If you are prepared to take a risk and believe in yourself, you will get there.
EF: Next year Novo Nordisk celebrates its 100th anniversary, which coincidentally happens to be 100 years since the discovery of insulin. What will your speech content be to your employees for the occasion?
PFL: I am very proud to have been chosen as one of the countries to make a full launch of the 100-year celebration due to our work in sustainability. We are part of a company that has a leading role in changing how diabetes is treated, a commitment we have upheld for 100 years. We are proud of the life-changing events, and it is an incredible feeling to be a part of changing history. We have consistently fought against diabetes for a century, bringing innovation and prevention to each one of the countries where we are. Who else can say that?