Roche has launched a new Africa Strategy in an effort to expand its footprint in parts of the continent.
“Africa has seen an average GDP (gross domestic product) growth of about 5% 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,” said 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 already have 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.
But doing business in these countries still comes with multiple challenges. “There are several key access barriers that need to be overcome in SSA,” said 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 prioritize 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.
It also is no secret that there already are many competitors who have begun to focus on Africa. Most multinationals have already started implementing aspirational Africa strategies while South African generic players are aggressively expanding in SSA through local acquisitions. In addition, Indian generics and biosimilar companies are increasingly making their presence felt.
But there still are 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 also is expected to rise from the current $17.4 to about $40, which compares well with the current figures in China. In addition, in some countries there have been favorable inflow of investments and changes in government have led to a climate of economic reforms.
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 prioritize healthcare, especially therapy areas important for Roche. “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,” said 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 also can advise and support policymakers on how to make improvements in their health systems,” he said.
The aim is to help in the treatment of an additional 56,000 patients in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020.