Roche launches a new strategy in Africa

Roche implements new strategy to make a real difference in lives of patients on the continent

It is a continent with tremendous potential. It comprises 54 countries with a population of about a billion. Although one in every four persons is a middle-to-upper income earner, or 330 million people, Africa, for the most part still continues to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. However, the world cannot ignore the growing economic might of the continent and potential to do business in. The newly announced Africa Strategy is also an effort by Roche to expand its footprint in parts of the continent.  

“Africa has seen an average GDP (gross domestic product) growth of about 5 percent per year since 2005. What we want to achieve with the Roche Pharma Africa Strategy is to increase access to our innovative treatments for patients in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) while creating an attractive and long-term sustainable business opportunity for Roche. The aim is to do this in a compliant comprehensive manner and to provide substantial benefits for patients in the region,” explains Peter Hug, Head EEMEA Region Pharma.

The strategy focuses on 20 countries in a phased manner, starting with seven in 2015. The disease areas that Roche will focus on are viral hepatitis and cancers in women such as breast cancer, cervical cancer and ovarian cancer.  These diseases are high priority as estimates in 2012 showed that over 150 million had hepatitis B in SSA, while 400,000 women had been diagnosed with breast cancer and an estimated 54,000 women die from cervical cancer in Africa every year.

An Africa Strategy Implementation Team will provide regional coordination and support to the participating countries which will develop and submit proposals for additional initiatives to drive patient access in their markets. Some initiatives have already been launched.  For example, in Ivory Coast, the Roche team has entered into an agreement with the government to provide access to low-income patients for breast cancer and hepatitis medicines through a four-tiered program of awareness, diagnosis, training of healthcare professionals, and treatment access.  The program aims to multiply by eight times the number of women being treated for breast cancer and treat five times more patients with hepatitis B and C.

The big challenges

But doing business in these countries still comes with multiple challenges. “There are several key access barriers that need to be overcome in SSA,” says Charles Fordjour, Head Africa Strategy Implementation Team. “Most of these countries do not have enough medical specialists and the quality of many healthcare institutions is poor. Governments are not able to prioritise cancer treatment and their expertise in biologics is extremely limited.” That coupled with other issues such as the lack of local prevalence data, uncertainties regarding supply chain quality, and limited funding to healthcare in general does not paint the rosiest of pictures.

But there are still many worthwhile positives that still make Africa a place with great potential. For instance, by 2020 it is estimated that the population will climb to 1.3 billion, on par with China. By then, the per capita pharma spend is also expected to rise from the current 17.4 USD to about 40 USD which compares well with the current figures in China. So there’s a lot to look forward to. In addition in some countries there have been favourable inflow of investments and changes in government have led to a climate of economic reforms.  

What Roche can do

The strategy also outlines the role Roche can play in overcoming some of the barriers mentioned earlier. For instance, a key part of the presence in SSA will be to drive partnerships so as to get governments to prioritise healthcare. “We also need to play our part in improving funding and infrastructure. However, it is very clear that it is not Roche’s role to build hospitals, hire physicians, donate drugs or build plants for local manufacturing,” explains Charles.  

“Roche can play an important part in the development of healthcare in SSA by supporting training of healthcare professionals and support pragmatic epidemiology and socio-demographic data generation. We can act as a catalyst to bring hospital builders and medical devices companies into the region with Roche Diagnostics. As a trusted partner Roche can also advise and support policymakers on how to make improvements in their health systems,” he adds.

While the plan will need a lot of hard work and planning to actually start bearing results, the aim is to help in the treatment of an additional 56,000 patients in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020. That will be an impactful and meaningful result to aim for.       

About the Region

  • Sub-Saharan Africa is geographically the area of Africa that lies south of the Sahara desert.
  • Politically it includes all countries that are fully or partially located south of the Sahara (excluding Sudan/South Sudan).
  • For Roche Pharma, the African continent comes under the region called EEMEA (Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa).
  • The Roche Pharma organization is divided into two—Management Center North and West Africa, and Management Center South Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The population of Sub-Saharan Africa is about 800–850 million, estimated to go up to about 1.3 billion by 2020.
  • Life expectancy: average ranges between 41 and 73 years.
  • Public health challenges: Until recently, Sub-Saharan Africa was home to 69 percent of all people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. Malaria is endemic in Sub-Saharan Africa and the majority of malaria cases and deaths worldwide occur here.

Tags: Sustainability, Africa