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EF: The World Economic Forum is in progress. If given the opportunity to speak, what would be the first thing you would address on healthcare?
SL: The primary concern I would address is collaboration among organizations to create universal access to healthcare for everyone regardless of their financial situations. Nowadays in the sector, there are buzzwords like “AI, innovation, the future of healthcare, access, and universal healthcare,” being used however, the major challenge resides in the implementation. Last year, I presented at the WHO Africa meeting, and in March this year, I’ll speak at Cambridge University at the GAP summit. In all these meetings, I have found that there are plenty of well-meaning discussions, but there needs to be a commitment to collaborate and implement. To achieve a truly equal opportunity to healthcare for all, there cannot be competition between companies with one company trying to outshine another. We need reliable, and active collaborations focused on the disease profiles we’re trying to tackle, not more PR.
EF: You joined Baxter five (5) months ago. Why did you accept the role and how confident were you that you were the right person for the role?
SL: I have a real passion for implementing ideas that will improve healthcare in Africa. Before joining Baxter, I was the Chief Commercial Officer for BioVac. At that time, I was starting to expand BioVac’s footprint into the rest of Africa. With local manufacturing, the only way to reduce your costs is to increase volumes (basic economies of scale). For BioVac to be competitive 5-10 years from now, they need to supply vaccines to expand their reach in Africa. BioVac has the only vaccine manufacturing site on the continent that can export to other countries. Senegal has one for yellow fever, but it’s only for Senegal and the UN. They can’t supply their neighbors. Local manufacturing of medicines is incredibly crucial for Africa. It is the only way in which Africa will become independent regarding access to medicines. “Made in Africa, For Africa, By Africans”.
I was energized by my work on vaccines but chose this role at Baxter because it provides me the opportunity to be in a position where I can make decisions and positively impact broader changes.
Baxter South Africa has many opportunities because there’s so much we can do. I believe in private-public-partnerships, I’ve seen first-hand how they can be successful. Baxter has a diverse portfolio, which includes medicines, devices, and technology. I know we can make a difference; that’s why I have embraced this challenge. For me, It’s about purpose. About positively impacting as many lives as possible, and I know I can do this working at Baxter.
My biggest mission right now is to engage with governments in the entire region actively. To develop partnerships centered around each countries healthcare needs.
What would you say that balance is? What are your priorities regarding public and private?
One of the biggest challenges is to learn how to use private sectors strengths in order to support the public sector and vice versa. In all countries, including the UK with the NHS, the true potential of healthcare is in the public sector; it’s not in the private sector. It’s not any different here. It’s about how you can take those strengths your company has built in the private sector and offer them to the public sector. It’s not just about price, it’s about the value a company can bring to the public sector.
What is Baxter’s current footprint in South Africa and the current portfolio?
Baxter has had a footprint in South Africa since 1948. Baxter helped to start local manufacturing. Adcock Ingram, one of the biggest local players here, has been manufacturing Baxter’s IV solutions for the last 60 years. They also manufacture our renal fluids for dialysis. Baxter was one of the first international companies that partnered with local companies and helped them grow a local footprint. This shows that we have always invested in the country and we’ll continue to do so.
We also have other portfolios namely: Advanced Surgery (these are hemostats and sealants used in the operating theater to stop bleeding and seal tissue), injectable pharmaceuticals including anti-infectives and oncology medicines (including chemotherapy drugs are currently on tender in South Africa) and Clinical Nutrition (infusion products for patients in the hospital or at home who cannot get their nutrients from food).
With this portfolio it is evident that there is a lot of room for Baxter to be part of the healthcare solution.
Are there any products in the pipeline that you are particularly excited about?
Yes, there is a filter that is used in intensive care units (ICUs) for continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT) and sepsis management. Oxiris is a 3-in-1 set for endotoxin removal, cytokine removal, and fluid/uremic toxin removal. We are building a pharma-economic model to show the benefits of it. We all know how much it costs for a patient to stay in an ICU per day. This product is exciting because I believe it can have a huge impact. So, if I had to choose any product, it would be this one. We can really make a huge difference.
How do you personally define access?
I define access as everyone’s right to receive treatment when they are sick. Access is a complicated subject in healthcare because we live in a world where there isn’t equality. When you think about human rights, access to medicine is a human right. Health is like education. It’s a human right.
Access needs be achieved, and I believe universal healthcare is achievable. We’re in the 21st century. We have access to technology – I have seen it first-hand, in a remote village in the middle of Uganda, all the villagers have a mobile phone. How is it possible that we’ve made smartphones reach everyone’s hand, but we haven’t been able to make healthcare reach everyone? Surely the infrastructure for mobile technology had to be created? I think that this is because the focus has to been 100% dedicated to healthcare. It is achievable. People just have to decide to make it a priority.
We did it in the past. We eradicated smallpox. How did we do that? Many years ago, with none of the technology that we have today. Every person got vaccinated. I do believe it’s just a matter of commitment.
What’s a good PPP (private-public partnership) model that can inspire other companies?
I’ve given this a lot of thought. I have had the experience while pursuing a PPP in a previous role. The company I worked for had an idea of what offering they wanted to present to the government, but instead I asked the Health Minister we were working with at the time “ If you had to pick one thing to improve the health of your citizens, one that you would appreciate external help for, what would it be?” He said, “Clean water.”
The learning for me was that we have got to communicate and take the time to understand the real needs. When you know what the need is, then you know how to build a public-private partnership that will work. People don’t often take the time to understand the country, the issues. Sometimes it’s so simple but it can make a huge difference. Sometimes the PPP offer is so complicated that it will never be able to be implemented. I like to build PPPs that actually add value.
What I would like to see is PPPPs: private-private-public partnerships. I wish there were companies that would sit down together and contribute complementary products/services. If we collaborate with other companies and go to the government together, we can make such a difference. I don’t know why this doesn’t happen, it often turns into competition instead.
What would like to say to foreign interests to convince them that Africa is an opportunity for growth for further investments?
Africa is probably the richest continent on the planet. Even from just a resource perspective, Africa has diamonds, coal, oil, copper, soil (everything grows when you plant it) the people are hardworking and community driven. When you travel into Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, it is evident that the potential is huge. Currently, South Africa is in a reform stage. Our President is righting the economical wrongs of the last decade. The economy will improve.
What would you like Baxter’s role to be in the South African healthcare map? How would you like to participate with the South African government?
I would like to see Baxter positively contribute to healthcare in the public sector. We have offerings we can take to the government that can improve national healthcare. For example, we have ICNet which is a Baxter created data network that immediately tracks and traces infection outbreaks and bacterial resistance. If a microbiologist identifies a specific bug in a specific ward in a hospital, he can immediately place it into the system. It can geographically map it out. With the current coronavirus issue, this can be very useful.
In the past, some companies have approached countries with a conditional proposal. We will give you this solution BUT… Five years down the line, the country is sitting there with a huge headache because they are either tied to a proposal or are so dependent on that partner that they cannot make their own decisions. This issue has created a situation where many countries have become resistant to receiving support or solutions from companies.
As leaders of organizations that provide healthcare in Africa, we should be mindful that our decisions impact the health and wellbeing of many. This is a big responsibility and it is something to be very grateful for. We should never lose sight of why we do this job. It should be done with the right heart.