What steps did Novartis take to face the pandemic, and what factors ensured you remained resilient over the last year?
The government of the UAE is still fully behind the vision to become an innovation hub, which allowed us to remain close to our own vision of re-imaging medicine to improve and extend people's lives. The government ensured patients were provided with medications, home delivery, and different activities and services to avoid disruption of treatments. There was also clear communication with the government on how to ensure supply and avoid shortages of medications. We did not experience any shortages in the UAE, which is due to a strong collaboration with the health authorities. Novartis had two responsibilities: making sure patients were supplied with whatever treatments they needed by collaborating closely with Ministry of Health and Prevention; and ensuring the safety of our employees. We made sure our people had the right technical equipment in order to work from home. As an organization, we helped to connect learnings from other countries that were hit with the pandemic earlier with the UAE. We also had strategic partnerships and remote consultations to provide support wherever possible and build the right infrastructure during this phase.
When you compare the reaction to the pandemic in your region to the rest of the world, what are the possible challenges or advantages in your field of operation?
The countries in the region I manage—Middle East and North and South Africa—are considered volatile. However, the people and culture here are extremely resilient, and people can deal with uncertainty and surprises. In our organization, the MEA region was one of the quickest to respond to the pandemic, coordinating with healthcare system providers on how we can support patients. While other places were still struggling, here people were looking to find solutions and opportunities. They were not complaining but accepting the situation and making the best out of it by creating learning opportunities. Our teams did many activities from home, such as virtual calls and meetings, and now customers are adapted to it. There are also situations where virtual meetings offer advantages, such as not having to travel, or set-ting up meetings faster to deal with urgent topics.
After the pandemic, the UAE realized it needed more security to have more local production. What is your opinion on that?
We are working with HA to enhance local manufacturing steps since we are already working on the second brand concept, which is one part of the local manufacturing. I can understand the need for the UAE and other countries to have self-dependency. One of the issues is that producing everything in each country is not feasible. Sometimes, local production is not the final solution because you need ingredients before you produce locally, so you would need to also produce the ingredients. You need to partner with the government to make sure you have the right stock levels in place and increase their minimum stock levels to make sure there are no shortages.
Where does Novartis stand on preventative healthcare, and what further improvement could be done in this space?
Prevention will be more important in the future to keep society healthy. We are working with the health authorities to analyze the existing data. We want to t control disease progressions and, when it comes to chronic diseases, prevent further deterioration. We deliver education programs to healthcare providers to ensure patients adhere to their treatments. We have home assistance and patient education programs in place to support patients through their journeys.