Leaving no patient behind in sub-Saharan Africa

In 2019, we established a dedicated organization to reach more patients in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), which is home to the largest underserved population in the world. The SSA unit is supporting a One Novartis approach to doing business in Africa and is deploying innovative approaches to increase patient reach, taking a high-volume, lower-price approach.

In line with our mandate, we have set ambitious targets to increase patient reach twofold by 2022 and fivefold by 2025. To achieve these targets, we will focus on three strategic pillars:

  • A customized therapeutic area strategy tailored to the regional burden of disease
  • A strategic shift from the private sector to the public sector to gain market share and drive maximization of patient reach potential
  • Geographical prioritization to countries where we can deliver higher impact at lower cost

Increasing patient reach in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA)

Increasing patient reach in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) (Graphic)

The COVID-19 pandemic put our SSA unit to the test, with most African countries going into lockdown in March. We quickly adapted to maintain access to our medicines during the crisis.

In September, we announced a collaboration with the African Union (AU) through the Africa Medical Supplies Platform (AMSP). The AMSP portal is an online marketplace that enables the supply of COVID-19-related critical medicines and medical equipment in Africa. Our collaboration focused on helping ensure more efficient and rapid access to medicines in the Novartis COVID-19 Pandemic Response Portfolio for the 55 AU member states and 15 eligible countries from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

In addition, Novartis provided USD 2 million to relief organizations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to mobilize community-based efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in more than a dozen African countries. This included purchases of soap, sanitizer and bleach, and essential caregiver equipment like personal protective equipment. We also provided educational materials on how to support vulnerable and impacted patients. Further, the funds included assistance for the International Rescue Committee’s pandemic response for refugee camps in Kenya, Uganda and Somalia, providing humanitarian and psychosocial support for displaced people.

Beyond the pandemic response, the SSA unit made significant progress in improving patient access. In June, we joined a collaboration with the American Cancer Society, the Clinton Health Access Initiative and other pharmaceutical companies to expand access to 20 lifesaving cancer therapies in 26 countries across SSA and Asia. It is estimated that there were approximately 811 000 new cancer cases and 534 000 cancer deaths in SSA in 2018. Novartis is contributing with a portfolio of chemo- and hormonal therapies for breast, cervical and prostate cancers, with plans to add more therapies in the future.

We are also expanding access to our portfolio of inhaled medicines for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including Ultibro Breezhaler, Onbrez and Seebri. Our teams in East Africa are developing access and launch plans for Ultibro Breezhaler in four countries where the treatment has been approved. COPD has a high prevalence in East Africa, affecting 44 million individuals in the region due to widespread high-risk factors such as biomass fuel and smoking.

Africa also has a high prevalence of glaucoma and front-of-the-eye diseases. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness. We are therefore working to expand access to our mature ophthalmology medicines to 20 countries across Africa. This expansion is part of an ongoing effort to improve patient access to medicines that treat ocular diseases such as glaucoma, allergy, inflammation and infection.