“Egypt’s continued development of healthcare will make it a pioneer in the field of hospital systems in a few years": Asgar Rangoonwala

Thursday 30 Jun 2022

The timing could not have been more suitable for Cairo to host Africa Health ExCon.

Asgar Rangoonwala
Asgar Rangoonwala, senior Vice President, EMEA (Europe, Middle East, & Africa) Emerging Markets at Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson

 

The ExCon in Egypt, the beating heart of Africa, discussed ways to strengthen healthcare systems and saw Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson emphasising its confidence in the growth of the Egyptian market as the country continues to invest in boosting healthcare systems and treatment delivery in hospitals.

While Egypt’s continued development of its healthcare infrastructure will make it a leader in the field of hospital systems in a few years, the coronavirus pandemic came as a warning signal and a wake-up call to many that the virus can bring the world to a halt for a long time.

These are some of the points Rangoonwala tackled in this interview during his participation in Africa Health ExCon.

First of all, what is the purpose of your visit to Egypt?

I am in Egypt to attend Africa Health ExCon. The event is an opportunity to understand the Egyptian government’s vision regarding healthcare.

We are interested in the future strategies and plans for healthcare in Egypt and exploring how as one of the leading pharmaceutical companies in Egypt we can continue to partner with the government and other players in health. It is noticeably clear Egypt has made great strides in strengthening its commitment to innovation and its healthcare sector, particularly regarding operations and procedures in the African Union and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

What is your vision for the Africa Health ExCon?

We strongly believe that no healthcare system can thrive without the support of the government. I am not only talking about the government’s involvement and funding, but also about the interest of the leadership and healthcare professionals to find solutions for all patients.

This is a daunting task, but there are clear development efforts in the healthcare systems, especially following the coronavirus outbreak, which made clear to everyone the importance of developing healthcare for patients around the world, particularly in Africa. The timing could not have been more suitable to discuss these topics.

What are Janssen’s investments in the Egyptian market? Are there plans to increase investments in the near future?

We invest a lot in resources and knowledge transfer, but the more important question is – what are the needs of Egypt and its citizens? We think that Egypt would benefit from knowledge transfer, such as innovative medicines, improved skills and methods of patient treatment, and the continuous professional development of nurses and physicians. All these factors will strengthen the different treatment areas and specialisations, and ultimately provide better outcomes to patients.

Regarding near-term investments, we will work to invest in the Egyptian market because it is a promising and thriving market, with a large number of patients who need innovative therapies. We believe that the Egyptian healthcare needs will continue to grow and are committed to bringing our previous innovative therapies to the Egyptian patients who need it. In addition, the government has shown a strong will to invest in improving the quality of healthcare services and products that will reach all segments of society, which in turn encourages us to increase our investments.

Through the time you served in China, what are the experiences that can be transferred from the Chinese healthcare system to Egypt’s healthcare system to better benefit the patients?

When I started my tenure in China in 2016, the country had very few healthcare investment systems. Development in this area was lacking. By the time I was leaving, there was already an approach to apply health economics to value of treatment with international standards in terms of healthcare and clinical testing.

If a country the size of China can implement this within six years, Egypt can implement these systems with the support of the Egyptian government and other partners. During my meeting with the Quality and Accreditation Authority for Hospitals, I saw great efforts towards capability building, and I believe that Egypt’s continued efforts in this regard will make it a pioneer in the field of innovative hospital systems within a few years with the best trained doctors.

Our role as a leading company in China and Egypt is to contribute to building these capabilities to ensure that innovative treatments reach the patients. I learned this in China, and I saw the life expectancy of Chinese citizens increasing significantly during the past 10 years, which has positively affected the Chinese economy. By relying on good healthcare systems young people with chronic diseases can work because they have access to effective treatment. China’s economic success is the standard in many markets, as in Egypt whose growing GDP can further grow due to the capabilities of this large country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the value of pharmaceutical companies. How can this positive outlook be maintained and what are the lessons learned?

We have learned that communities are rapidly affected by healthcare issues. If you look at developed markets, you will be surprised. How can a city like New York or Berlin become paralyzed? Undoubtedly, the pandemic was a wake-up call for many countries because we have learned that the virus can bring the world to a halt for a long time.

The most valuable lesson we learned is the importance of providing sustainable healthcare for everyone, because no one wants to go through this difficult time again. We have also seen increased motivation behind the tireless work of governments to strengthen and support their healthcare systems, and workers who deliver care to patients.

We also learned a lot about prevention methods, intensive care units, and importance of public health. Some of these were matters unknown to the public before the pandemic and were limited to the knowledge of healthcare workers only. But because the public started to care about these issues, the governments focused on healthcare, and consequently, pharmaceutical companies played a very important role as a result of these new challenges.

How is Janssen responding to the healthcare needs that have emerged recently during the pandemic, and how are patients in Egypt benefiting from this?

We are proud that we have a comprehensive supply and support system through importing products and raw materials, and we have succeeded in continuing to supply our products even when conditions were exceptional.

Speaking of specialised care, such as cancer care and other diseases, those patients will not get medicine or treatment in cases of lockdowns and curfews. We single these patients out because they must receive treatment in hospitals, and sometimes the healthcare system is not accessible to them. Imagine that there is a cancer patient who must go to the hospital during a pandemic to receive treatment.

We need to continue to invest in prevention and vaccination programs, as well as addressing issues around mental and psychological health. When you think about it, there are a lot of people who have been subject to stress and depression in the past year. I think that the rates of depression, and psychological problems have largely increased because of isolation and restrictions during the pandemic.

We have had an important discussion about our support for the Egyptian government and the medical community to raise awareness about psychological disorders and are committed to increasing investment in mental health. We have invested in this field for more than 60 years, and we are proud to be the leading company in the treatment of schizophrenia, ADHD and depression. We continue to create positive change, including raising awareness among healthcare professionals and general public so that everyone can continue to make improvements in this field.

In light of Egypt’s Vision 2030, Egypt is clearly investing in healthcare reform. How can Janssen company participate in developing the Egyptian market according to this vision to provide value for patients and make sure its innovative products are available to them?

The company has adopted programs for medical education through experts to transfer their experience to a large number of doctors in different countries, which is a good concept for capability building.

We talked about the challenge of treating Crohn’s disease (a type of inflammatory bowel disease). The concept is based on sending a specialist consultant to the hospital that needs him. We may face many obstacles to train all the doctors in the country, but we can train some and send them, so that they become an important part of further education and can provide support, training, and assistance effectively. This trend will increase the rates of recovery and treatment significantly and very quickly throughout the republic.

For example, schizophrenia is a very difficult disease to manage and treat. Families go to the internist when they notice behavioral changes, and they would not find anything wrong, and then the patient’s condition develops before an accurate diagnosis can be made.

These changes are difficult for an average person to notice, and we find that families often isolate patients because they do not understand the nature of the disease, and society rejects the patient that has become dangerous or strange. Therefore, our commitment is to work to raise awareness and fight the stigma of mental illness. This is a process that takes many years to improve, but if we do not start now, we will never get there.

We believe that all patients across the country, not only in large cities, have the right to access quality healthcare.

What are the challenges facing Janssen in the Egyptian market and how can it overcome them?

The Egyptian market is very attractive, and this also makes our role very important because we believe that during the past 40 years, we have succeeded in making a difference in the lives of patients, not only in Egypt but in the region more broadly.

The vast majority of patients in Egypt did not always have an opportunity to obtain medication approximately six or seven years ago. And with the remarkable development now, we are talking about universal healthcare coverage by 2030, which is revolutionary in the world of healthcare systems. Indeed, Egypt will have a pioneering healthcare system and the first in Africa to make revenues on investment in new therapies.

Janssen is known for its innovation and significant investment in its research and development sector. What are the main sectors you focus on? Is Janssen Egypt conducting local clinical trials?

We focus on central nervous system diseases, such as schizophrenia, as well as multiple sclerosis diseases.

We are also pioneering in the study of hematology, oncology, prostate cancer, bladder cancer and are currently working on lung cancer. We are the leaders in science and data, and I would say we have a unique business history that perfectly fits the medical needs of this country.

We do not only conduct clinical trials, but we also do clinical trials for global development programs, and Egypt is part of these programs, so we do not wait to do local trials, but rather use the global experiences that we already have.

Our scientists can conduct these clinical trials with international standards. In international trials, we are always evaluating and comparing capabilities, employing a strict timeline, and have been impressed by the speed and accuracy of Egypt’s insistence on conducting clinical trials.

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