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EF: Looking at 2022 in the context of the past two years, 2020 was the year of diagnostics, and 2021 was the year of vaccines; what do you think 2022 will bring?
SG: I believe prevention is the key to success for any health system. The prevention of diseases by vaccination, healthy habits, or early diagnostics is key to minimizing their impact and a priority that any health system should have. Fortunately, this is one of the priorities of the Colombian government. The Universal Healthcare of Colombia is one of the best health systems in the region. In vaccines, it has coverage for over 20 diseases, and all health systems should focus on prevention and early diagnosis. If oncological, asthma or COPD patients go undiagnosed, the diseases develop undetected, affecting the people's quality of life and at a higher cost for the system. We must get better at diagnosing at the early stages. Vaccination has become more important with Covid, but other diseases now should be brought to attention. Last year, working with the Colombian Association of Infectious Diseases and the Pediatrics Association, we did a powerful campaign on vaccine awareness.
EF: How can we leverage healthcare's recent attention to increasing awareness in other disease areas?
SG: The first thing we should do as a society is to work on early diagnosis. Covid has been a big topic, but the first cause of death in Colombia is cardiometabolic diseases, followed by respiratory diseases, excluding Covid. These diseases are not age-related but a consequence of people's life quality and not consulting with physicians. Many deaths would be avoided or diminished with healthier habits. A critical area is training talent in primary care and specialists to diagnose early, as sub-diagnosis and misdiagnosis happen worldwide. Training and increasing awareness of accurate diagnosis from general practitioners is the doorway to a higher quality of life. We also need to focus more on innovation. I'm very proud that GSK is a leader in HIV and respiratory, and now we are strengthening our portfolio in oncology. The first inhaled therapy was in the 60s, and we have made impressive progress since then. We have been innovating year on year to provide better access and quality of life. The Colombian government included all our respiratory products in the National Formulary at the beginning of this year, accelerating access. Innovation is important because it can significantly enhance the patient experience and life quality. HIV is a clear example of improvement; in the past, several pills a day had to be taken, whereas now, a daily pill is sufficient, and in the future, it will be managed with a monthly or bi-monthly pill and injection. GSK is splitting into two companies; on the one hand, an end consumer company focusing on the OTC segment. The other one is a Biopharmaceutical company focused on driving innovation. We believe collaborations are important for innovation. We have partnerships with various companies to leverage a genetic database, focus on specialized medicine and bring innovative solutions to patients faster. It is an exciting time for us, and we are very proud of what we are doing.
EF: What are you most excited about in the upcoming years here in Colombia for GSK?
SG: We are strengthening our oncology team in Colombia and working on growing our evidence generation team because we need local evidence to bring innovation. We are now preparing the team with a very talented pool of Colombians. The level of knowledge regarding health outcomes and access in Colombia is fantastic. We want to bring innovation in oncology, ovarian cancer, and new HIV therapies. I believe we can achieve great results from collaborations, and I am especially excited to position Colombia through GSK as an Innovation Hub in Latin America. GSK has been number one on the Access to Medicine Index for the past fourteen years, a system indicating the innovation brought, facilitating the access of drugs for patients and neglected diseases.
EF: What is your definition of Access?
SG: It is how the government prioritizes healthcare to give universal access to all Colombians; it also refers to the physician's autonomy to decide on the right treatment for each patient. Access includes many segments, from the government to healthcare givers, early diagnosis, products, physicians, treatments, etc. Our mantra is "the right product for the right patient", but access is bigger; it includes what surrounds the product -the health system and the patient's family, and we must give the patients the best journey possible. We are not just providers; we do patient follow-ups, ensuring that the patient uses the product correctly. HIV or epileptic patients need help from the family and the health system, and we can help.
JG: Access in Colombia is quite different from the rest of the region. We have a universal coverage system, and the care providers have huge portfolios of products for the patients. Health is considered a human right in Colombia, which doesn't necessarily happen in other countries, where the allowed list of drugs is short, and the patient must pay the rest. There are a few exclusions in Colombia, but the concept of catastrophic illness is no longer enforced; no one has to sell a house or a car to pay for illness. We sometimes have problems with opportunity, quality, or access, and getting medicines to the middle of the jungle or the rural areas, but in terms of access to medicine, Colombia is better than many countries.
SG: The position Colombia took with the Venezuelan migration over the past three years is an example of how our system works. The Colombian government, AFIDRO, and ANDI donated half a million doses of vaccines to the Venezuelan migration. We also worked with the government on campaigns for HIV patients arriving in the country. The initiative started in Colombia and will now be applied in Peru, Ecuador, and Chile. After working in many countries, I can confirm that access in Colombia is comprehensive.
EF: How would you rate the level of introduction of innovation in Colombia?
SG: The government is inspiring UK health initiatives by evaluating the introduction of some technologies into the country. But there is access to all products in the National Formulary; physicians can prescribe and explain why a product is needed if there is a similar choice in National Formulary. Either way, there is access to any product approved by Invima. When the government has new ideas, they create discussion tables with academia, medical societies, care providers, insurance companies, and pharmaceutical teams. Putting the patient at the centre, the government brings all stakeholders to the table and looks for the best solutions. The patient is the priority, and patient activism is important as it involves prevention.
EF: What initiatives could be implemented to develop further prevention in Colombia?
SG: Education is the answer. Educate doctors to educate them on healthy habits and make early diagnoses that can, in some illness, change the course of it and even cure it. In my primary school in Argentina, a dentist came to the classroom to teach us how to brush our teeth and spoke about the importance of healthy eating habits. Education on healthy living habits and the importance of sports must happen when we are young. The government has been working on vaccination campaigns to avoid preventable diseases, but both the government and the industry still need to work more on prevention. The private sector supported and was part of the Covid vaccination program in Colombia, and as an organization, we bought vaccines for all our employees. My kids teach me what they learn in school, such as dealing with waste and reading the supermarket's food labels, all things that come with education. COVID accelerated prevention awareness, hand-washing, social distancing, mask-wearing, etc. When people have the flu, they wear a mask to not propagate the disease in Asia. This habit is a result of education, and for this reason, education is critical to achieving prevention.
EF: Has the pandemic changed your strategy on team building?
SG: The pandemic has changed things, as has the digital element, such as online consultations; we now communicate with our stakeholders virtually. We have adapted to our customers and stakeholders. We try to understand what information they need, use their communication preference and send it to them when they are comfortable receiving it. We look for solutions, which seem to lie in a hybrid model, but if a certain stakeholder prefers face-to-face meetings, we can adapt to that. We can do digital meetings, recorded information, or highlights –we always adapt- and because we are a very strong team, we have adapted successfully. We listen to all voices, medical, access, and the critical voice of our customers. Through leadership and teamwork, we have aligned to the needs of our customers and stakeholders. Teamwork is a popular word nowadays, but I believe good communication is largely responsible for our success.
EF: In terms of HR, has the needed skill set for the future employee changed?
SG: Definitely. I'm close to 50 years old, and last year, I did an online course, re-training on digital marketing because I need to understand and adapt to the new generation's communications. We spent eighteen months off the field during the pandemic; we retired our people a week before the government ordered the lockdown. We stopped visiting physicians for three months and started re-training our teams because our main stakeholders were primary respiratory physicians and infectious disease doctors, who were busy with the situation. It was a very hard decision, but the right decision. The hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, and claims were learning and adapting to new protocols to treat COVID patients, and it didn't make any sense to do any promotion at that time. We learned to use other communication tools, email, WhatsApp, webinars, etc. We learned to adapt, to perform business intelligence, and BI meant listening to the customer.
EF: What is the relative importance of Colombia to GSK as a group?
SG: Latin America is divided into three regions, and our region's priority is innovation, mainly because of how the Colombian health system works. There are fantastic opportunities for access and growth in Colombia. We are an entrepreneurial team, and our organization trusts us to get results with innovation.
EF: How do you attract GSK resources to Colombia with other countries vying for resources?
SG: In terms of product presentation, we have proved that we are capable and successful, and we always get resources. For example, we did two weeks of promotion for a new product for COPD in February, and then we launched it six months later in August, and the product did very well. Our strong team is open to innovation, which is critical to be given priority. We are effective and proficient and generate trust -a key element. We are building a very strong and talented medical oncology team and a commercial team to achieve access to innovation. We are also working to bring new innovative vaccines and strengthen our HIV and respiratory teams. We are even exporting talent; we have many Colombians working across the organization in Europe in different therapeutic areas. I am very proud that we export many talented Colombians –and Latin Americans- worldwide.
EF: When you look back at this period in your professional career, how would you like to be remembered?
SG: I would like to be remembered for working together for the company's success. I like to leave a "friend footprint" behind. I am an ambitious leader; I enjoy working with people and know I have to be patient and not impose my ideas. I still keep in touch with people I worked with in India, Singapore, the UK, Argentina, and Peru. If I leave Colombia, I hope to leave friends here that will also remember me.
EF: Is there a final message you would like to share?
SG: Any team can succeed if they work together; they must be humble enough to listen to what is happening within the organization and learn from the past. We have to be ambitious for the patients, and despite having many great ideas, they must be priorities. I see a lot of ideas within and outside the organization in governments, but we have to prioritize and focus on one or two things that will bring change to the health system and benefit the patient. With a work-life balance in mind, post-Covid, we have re-inaugurated our offices with open spaces for staff to relax and enjoy, installing a play station, ping pong table, and a foosball table (table football). It is a collaborative space for our employees to have the opportunity to ground themselves and make them feel more at home. We work on all aspects of diversity and inclusion; 70% of the Colombian staff is female; we have people with different educational backgrounds from Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, and all corners of Colombia. We also have presence in Cali and Medellin, and we are not all centred in Bogotá.
JG: I've been working in GSK for almost ten years, and I am very proud of our impact on patients. Our ambition for the new GSK is to impact 2.5 billion people over the next ten years and 600 million people in emerging markets. For example, in vaccines last year in Colombia, we impacted the lives of seven hundred thousand people, many of them children. Our business is not about selling products but about impacting people's lives. Secondly, access to medicines is necessary, and providing access to drugs is the best job to have. We provide a great pathway to innovation, which promises access and a positive impact on people's lives.