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EF: 2020 was a year of diagnostics, and 2021 a year of vaccines, what will 2022 is going to be the year of?
WC: The last two years have certainly been years where mental health has not been in the spotlight, I believe that 2022 will be a year where mental health will come to the forefront, and I think patients are starting to reach out for help when it comes to that. What we are seeing is people struggling in the aftermath of COVID, and we are now finding that the repercussions of this are now being seen by healthcare providers.
I also think that 2022, from a normal perspective, will be how we return to the normal prior to 2019. Of course, during COVID there were certain disruptors, one of them was Teams and Zoom calls etc. We will have to learn how we will return to normal by incorporating these disruptors.
EF: Has the COVID-19 experience highlighted the importance of mental health?
WC: Absolutely. It is the social impacts of the pandemic that have caused a lot of stress, anxiety and burnout in workers, because of the digital meetings that people were having and the inability to then create boundaries between home and work environments.
EF: Could you elaborate on why mental health needs to be an urgent priority in South Africa and how it can be integrated into the system?
WC: Mental health has not been a key focus in South Africa due to larger diseases like HIV, and there are few companies focused on mental health. The voice is a lot less in terms of promoting it and NGOs involved in mental health have limited funding which then poses a barrier for them to promote mental health. For Lundbeck South Africa, it is something that we do and are passionate about in terms of disease awareness, but there is still a cultural stigma attached to mental health in South Africa.
EF: How can challenges around cultural stigma be overcome?
WC: Overcoming these challenges would require greater collaboration between the private sector as well as the government sector in order to increase awareness of mental health and the stigmas associated with it and where to and how to reach out for help. So greater collaborations than what we have currently are highly advised.
EF: Could you elaborate on your role in the mind resource centre initiatives?
WC: It is a global initiative and one that we have localized that is directed to healthcare practitioners. In terms of the healthcare professionals, there is great support for mental health awareness and how to treat mental health awareness. We have some of the most educated psychiatrists in the world. Lundbeck also has printed versions of patient material, that's a wonderful resource centre in terms of information that's more patient-focused where patients have access to information on all mental diseases.
EF: What are the top priorities for the portfolio performance of Lundbeck South Africa?
WC: For us, patient access will always be the top priority. Dealing with psychiatric conditions is important not only for patients but for their family members and for them to get access to medication, because if they do not, they may relapse which then poses more complications. We're dealing with a disease area where compliance is a big issue. In order to achieve compliance and for patients to stay on medication, access to medication is a priority.
EF: From your perspective, what is the future of access in South Africa?
WC: It goes back to a greater need between the pharmaceutical private sector and government to interact as we are dealing with such a big population where access cannot be done alone. To facilitate better access, we need to start with higher engagement particularly about mental health as there is a lot more engagement for other disease areas like HIV and vaccines.
EF: How does the healthcare sector assist in developing the economy?
WC: What companies could do is focus a lot more on mental wellness within organizations. Often you get people struggling with mental health issues trying to function at work, while not being productive. We need to create an open platform for people to speak up and to reach out for help which will improve workplace productivity which then will contribute positively to the growth of the economy.
EF: What advice would you give to other executives regarding maintaining social responsibility and being aware of the impact that they have?
WC: It is important to still push for CSIs on our agenda and to go into communities where it is most needed and where we do not get any benefit out of it. Even though our budgets are getting tighter, we still have a responsibility to South Africa and its people.
EF: What are your three top strategies to keep your team engaged?
WC: The first thing I would say is you need to make people responsible for the culture. Culture belongs to everybody who works in the company, and this is a factor that Lundbeck has succeeded. The second is we need to create an open platform for engagement, where everybody is encouraged to speak up, and the third is to take care of your people.
EF: In the context of the new world of work, what new skill sets do you look for when hiring new employees?
WC: We are looking for people willing to challenge the status quo as we are a specialized company, we need people coming from the outside with different options. People who are not afraid to speak out, challenge the business model and are agile and able to cope with agility in a fast-changing world. Thirdly, we need people who are flexible and able to cope with change.
EF: At the end of 2022, what achievement are you going to celebrate?
WC: As a company, we will celebrate all the messages that we receive from doctors about the difference that we have made in patients' lives, and for us, it speaks to our patient ethos and what it is that we wake up every day for. That is what we will celebrate. We will celebrate that we have made a difference for people living with psychiatric disorders.