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EF: Can you elaborate on Merck South Africa’s pandemic response story during this time?

TH: We worked on supporting the international COVID response while making sure that our local patients received the attention and care they deserve, making sure we imported and exported. Our main goal was to make sure that patients were at the top of our minds in the delivery of medications during COVID-19, alongside other key concerns such as diabetes and hypertension We were focused on patient care and safety.

EF: What were the key lessons learnt from your new position during this time?

TH: We must put patients first in all our decision-making endeavours, that was our bottom line. My main point was to make decisions that are good for the patients, and the rest will follow. Another point is focusing on your people through a strategy that does not discriminate, and that makes them flexible to change, resilient and empowered to be decision-makers.

We were forced to evolve quickly into digitalization, for us and our patients. Digitalization has improved efficacy in everything inside. By embracing digitalization, we can reach a much bigger base. This has allowed us to face bigger challenges than we used to, in the quest to reach our people. The change of structure was a necessity and not a privilege. It is seldom a survival tactic to interact with customers in the way they need to be interacted with. This was a course that was stagnant and relatively inefficient.

EF: Could you elaborate on the strategic importance is of South Africa to Merck and the role of the country in the company's success?

TH: Merck is focused on accessing medicine in South Africa. We are a good example of how we can move from a private sector market into partnerships with the government to improve access to healthcare. Merck also focuses on two of the largest parasitic diseases, things that have a huge impact on countries like South Africa in terms of adding value to us and the world at large.

However, when it comes to putting the patients at the centre of everything we do, access to health is extremely important. Merck is focusing on innovation and technology, a big understanding that there are still people in Africa who don't have access to basic medication, they are not getting diagnosed. It's important to bridge these barriers irrespective of country and cost. A healthy population is a healthy economy and so the application of preventative medicine or preventative approaches also contributes to a healthy livelihood.

EF: What are some of the key focuses for the company in South Africa?

TH: We’re focused on National Health Insurance, something that we need to be involved with and is a win-win for both sectors. We’ve partnered with the government on various projects such as community programs. Our aim is to provide value under National Health Insurance which is a lower-cost health environment.
We can make sure that we arrive at a middle ground not only for cost-effective solutions but for accommodating all parties. This aims at making sure that no stone is unturned in terms of making sure that all the challenges are catered to and add value.

EF: What is your perspective on the integrity of early prevention and greater awareness in addressing health concerns at an early stage?

TH: We have rolled out a diabetes prevention program through treating pre-diabetes. If treated in the earliest stages, it means that the care can be treated using low-cost medication. It will also help us open access to innovative therapies for a larger population, other than those who are paying premium funds.
Part of our programs will include education on diet and exercise for everyone while focusing on making sure the medicine is available and ensuring that the medical community is aware and starts to treat early to prevent escalation.

EF: Can you elaborate on the importance of healthcare education and your expectations from such initiatives?

TH: Education is key. There is an enormous stigma around infertility in countries like Kenya and Uganda, terming it a female's disease. It's important to bolster health education. We have seen devastating impacts on communities and individuals around the stigma and discrimination across Africa. There is a need to address education in South Africa, which we've made our focus.  

EF: What is your perspective on the use of digital business models in advancing the healthcare system in South Africa?

TH: It is key to embrace technology. It improves efficiencies, effectiveness and your reach to provide our medicine and services to patients. We can use digitalization to improve personal interaction between patients and their physicians. It allows us to do an effective job in South Africa.
It means that our physicians expand the number of global interactions, something that is new. There is a space for technology since it adds value to South Africa and the world at large in environments where there is a lack of education. If patients have a smartphone; it provides an avenue to make them aware and stay updated on their health statuses.

EF: What is the role of Merck in advancing the social and economic system?

TH: Our primary goal is to find ways to partner where we can ensure that the expertise and knowledge that we have is transferred to the government. We're working to find solutions, technologies and experiences that our global companies have had, that can improve the effectiveness and open up access. We're also working on community projects in ensuring that the government care gets more reach.  

EF: Is there a dream project you would like to do, or something that you are specifically excited about?

TH: Success in pre-diabetic care with preventative medicine or early-stage intervention is one of my dream projects. I believe we can have an enormous impact on the whole population if Merck is successful in working with the healthcare professionals to hold it in high regard like other diseases. Being a disease that manifests itself at critical stages, it's an unseen and unfelt pandemic. I would like to contribute to Merck’s efforts in changing how the community feels about diabetes. Another concern is a disease that increases the chances of contracting HIV and causes malnutrition in children.

EF: 10 years from now, what would you like to be remembered for?

TH: My passion is my people and my goal is around my team and my organization, and to ensure that they are in the right direction.
Everyone needs that one person who pushes you in the right direction and advocates and believes in you. I would like to be able to do that for every single person who comes through my organization. I want to know that somewhere I've made a difference.

August 2022
South Africa