Read the Conversation
EF: After overseeing Colombia & Peru you are now at the head of 26 countries, has your new role shifted or changed your priorities?
SA: I took on my new role during the pandemic and prioritizing in the present circumstances is of fundamental importance as is the leadership involved. My team has more empowerment for the important challenges ahead in terms of achieving our goals and I must support my team in this process.
EF: What is the current footprint you have in the whole region?
SA: We have presence in 26 countries, which is important because we produce vaccines, and we work with both the public and private market. Vaccines are a high priority for governments; they have strong national immunization programs and provide vaccines to huge numbers of people in each country. Our unique perspective is that we work to be the partner of choice of governments with the aim of contributing to public health in reaching healthy communities. We give the different governments and the private market segment of the region access to latest technology of vaccines to avoid the consequences of non-prevention.
EF: Creating access over 26 different countries with different regulations cannot be an easy task, SANOFI Colombia created an interesting partnership with Rappi, will you be expanding that model to other countries?
SA: We need to change the way we innovate, the way we supply and the way we communicate to adapt to the needs of the society and the partnership with Rappi is a great example of how we can transform our processes to generate greater value for our stakeholders. Let me explain this, the innovation we achieved with this alliance has been crucial because even though not getting the necessary vaccines will be problematic (even catastrophic) in the medium-term ─and people is aware of that─, our clients have been afraid to leave their homes and go to hospitals or vaccination centers to get their vaccines. So, we protected them by bringing the vaccines to their homes in a secure and simple way: the system can be easily used as it is close to our culture and habits. Therefore, this initiative has allowed us to achieve our greatest goal: to extend the power of vaccination to save lives as widely as possible. And I am so proud of it that I was one of the first to get vaccinated by the Rappi system because I wanted to test the process in terms of bio-security. Then, we have vaccinated all our SANOFI staff and their families in Colombia through this platform, becoming the best example of how to protect ourselves with this innovative process. Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean we have to invent everything; we just joined the best of two universes: the platform to deliver with the product and the expertise of who can successfully vaccinate at home in times of Covid-19.
EF: Was this breakthrough idea easy to introduce and implement in Latin America, was your team open to the idea?
SA: It was not easy at the beginning because it was such a new idea and it needed a lot of explaining. However, we do believe in being the first to venture into new fields. We can learn in the process and convince internal stakeholders to take the risk, to accept the challenge, and consider the advantages of trying new initiatives and when they understand the objectives and are engaged with the process it can be implemented in an easy way. Our venture with Rappi is an example of the kind of things we need to do. We believe we have the obligation to include digital innovation into our day-to-day processes and generate a new mindset in the company.
We are an extremely regulated industry with a lot of both external and internal restrictions and in order to achieve a digital transformation we must change from within, and Covid has forced our hand making life easier for all in terms of culture. For example, two weeks before the lockdown there was a big resistance from our customers to share and sign generate a new way of sharing and signing documents, but three weeks into lockdown everything was being signed in this way. In some cases, face-to-face contact and interaction is necessary. But digital has already replaced a lot of traveling time, expenses, and jetlag very successfully making us more time-cost efficient, and the change happened only because of Covid and the lockdown it originated.
EF: How difficult -or not- has it been to work with the different governments as opposed to working with the private sector?
SA: Working with the public sector has additional challenges in this context of a pandemic, because clearly governments are under unprecedented pressure, scrutiny and demands in their countries, to which they must respond with limited resources, not only financial, but also humans, material and technological. However, we have witnessed the willingness of the majority of States to provide the best possible care to the population, and to address the emergency as fast and effective as they could. For this reason, we believe that, despite the challenges it might represent, we as private sector have a responsibility, and particularly in Sanofi we have assumed the commitment, to provide the Governments with our full support, and contribute to overcoming this enormous health crisis.
There are many alternatives to do so. At Sanofi Pasteur our main purpose is to support the development of disease prevention programs, all over the world. That’s why we make medical education and awareness initiatives available to our different partners. One of our main contributions is sharing relevant information with governments and doing research on public health issues such as the reasons for people not getting their vaccines, to help them to make better and more timely decisions. And we are convinced that the research we produced (scientific and pharma economics data) really makes a difference and helps to deepen our partnerships with authorities and the medical community.
EF: What is your personal definition of access?
SA: At Sanofi Pasteur, we believe that access is giving the population of each country the products and opportunity to live healthier lives. When a vaccine is introduced to a national immunization plan of a country its access is practically universal. There is no other product in Pharma that has the impact we can achieve with vaccines; in African and Latin American countries this is fundamental as it ensures equity in terms of socio-economic conditions as the same product gets to almost all the country’s population. We have a coverage of 85% to 94% -before Covid- and to ensure access of our products and the best technologies to up to 94% of the country’s population is very satisfying. Furthermore, being able to do so despite of all difficulties and challenges we are facing due to COVID-19, is wonderful. But this is not fortuitous.
Our teams have worked unceasingly in difficult conditions adapting to digital in record time managing to comply with all that we had planned prior to Covid, achieving results mainly due to our unparalleled sense of purpose and the desire to contribute to the health of children.
EF: When you look back on this year, what would you like 2020 to be remembered?
SA: It could be the year that people realized the importance of prevention and the importance of the contribution our industry offers, a catalyst for so much more. People are not usually aware of all the work we do or if they know they forget about all the diseases that can be treated today that in the past were death warrants and today not only can be treated but also offers a huge improvement in the quality of life. Today patients with hepatitis C, for example, can live an absolutely normal life with a three-month treatment. We produce vaccines that have made diseases disappear and as a result, people forget they existed, a year ago when talking with some interns I realized they had no idea about polio ─and that is just one example. Vaccines have had an incredible influence on people’s lives of which they are mostly unaware. Today is a time to remember the importance of prevention; the research our industry allows people to continue living their lives and this is direct proof of the contribution of the healthcare sector and the sense of purpose we have and I would like this awareness to existing and be remembered. Additionally, I would like to balance what is important in life: work and family, to live a full life with sufficient agility to adapt to new realities, to innovate, and change the way we do things. This is a year of cultural changes and living styles, a year of lessons learned which we can apply to the rest of our lives. This year is a catalyzer that has and will change so many things; Covid has done what nothing else could: forced us to adapt and change to a new way of living.