Interview with Mahesh P. Karande, Head of the Africa Cluster for Novartis. In this role, he is responsible for leading Novartis business activities in sub-Saharan Africa.
Oct 16, 2014
Mahesh has extensive experience working in healthcare in developing countries, including a role as Novartis country head in Egypt. He has also held positions at top multinational companies including Novartis, Pfizer, Ikaria and McKinsey. He earned an MBA from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and a Master of Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
How does Novartis see Africa’s potential as a healthcare market, now and in the future?
Karande: Africa is a complicated mix of new and persistent healthcare challenges. It is still disproportionately affected by infectious diseases that put a significant burden on struggling economies, and life expectancy remains 15 years less than the global average. Malaria and other contagious – and often preventable – diseases like HIV, Ebola, pneumonia and even leprosy still stand in the way of growth. At the same time, non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular diseases are projected to overtake communicable and nutritional diseases as the most common causes of death in Africa by 2030.
Mahesh P. Karande is responsible for leading Novartis business activities in sub-Saharan Africa.
That being said, the continent also presents a major opportunity. The pharmaceutical sector in Africa is on the rise, and is expected to grow as the continent’s economic power grows. Just think: seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies will be in Africa during the next five years, and across the continent, more than 50% of the population has a mobile phone and more than half of Africa’s population are projected to live in cities by 2030. As such, Africa has tremendous potential as a pharmaceutical market. To be ready to fully capture that potential in the future, we need to be investing and helping build it today.
Do you think Novartis is well equipped (including having the right portfolio) to tackle the double disease burden in Africa?
Karande: As a company, we have a long standing relationship and commitment to Africa, with decades of experience on the ground. Today, we are the third largest multinational healthcare company in Africa, and we aim to become the leading healthcare company by tripling access to our medicines by 2018.
I believe our broad portfolio of high-quality products can help to address Africa’s double disease burden of infectious and noncommunicable diseases. Our pharmaceutical portfolio covers a wide range of specialty areas including antimalarial, cardiovascular, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, as well as transplant, oncology and epilepsy.
In addition, through our generics division, Sandoz, we are bringing high-quality generic drugs to Africa, making treatment more affordable for patients. In fact, we received approvals for over 380 generics in 2013 and are working to make every medicine on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines part of our generics offering in Africa.
Across the continent, we know that no two communities or countries are identical, so we design programs to fit local needs and contexts. That’s why we use a combination of approaches – philanthropy, zero profit, shared value and core business – tailored to local needs.
How does Africa differ from other emerging markets? What is the company’s strategy in Africa, and how does this strategy benefit patients?
Karande: I have worked in emerging markets for a while now. When I look at the African markets, especially in sub-Saharan African countries, I think of them more as “frontier” markets. The healthcare sector is nascent, and predominantly self-pay. Government funded schemes exist sparsely, with at best up to 5% of the population covered. And where they do exist, governments and aid agencies focus on fighting infectious diseases – so we need to open and force a dialogue with them about NCDs. These markets are also highly fragmented, with local, Indian and Chinese generics widely available. There is also a very high prevalence of counterfeit products.
Broadly speaking, our strategy in Africa is to drive access to high-quality medicines, build our local internal capabilities, and help build and strengthen healthcare systems and services. It all comes together in our “Go Africa” project: representatives from all divisions, Corporate Responsibility, the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, the Novartis Foundation for Sustainable Development – and more – working together with the single focus of driving success in Africa.
Our work also includes long-term investments in people, science and medical infrastructure to strengthen healthcare systems and improve health outcomes in Africa.
At the end of the day, we are in business of helping African patients and all our efforts are channeled in that direction. Our investments and efforts to increase access to affordable medicines, create healthcare professionals who are better trained, and help governments focus on improving healthcare delivery will benefit patients in the long run.
What do you think differentiates Novartis from competitors on the ground?
Karande: I think given our diverse and broad portfolio, Novartis is uniquely well positioned to cover Africa’s disease burden. Additionally, there is a real commitment to invest and grow our presence in Africa from the highest levels of the organization.
The scale and expertise within our company makes us well-positioned to tackle the diverse healthcare challenges in Africa. Our Pharmaceuticals Division is one of the largest pharmaceutical operations in the world, Sandoz offers one of the most extensive portfolios of generics and Alcon provide access to high-quality eye care. These divisions receive support from our global research organization, the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR), enabling us to bring innovative, high-quality and affordable medicine and therapies to patients.
We’re also focused on building African talent and developing differentiated business models that respond to economic realities. This approach will not only improve patient outcomes, but also expand our presence on the continent in a way that contributes to economic growth.
Finally, we know we have the backing of a global leader in healthcare, with strong, experienced people on the ground – people who have a real passion for Africa and its patients. Taken together, I think we have everything necessary to differentiate ourselves from the competition and make a real difference in the lives of patients across Africa.