Roche has long-term plans for Nigeria’s health sector – Addae



Mr Herman Addae is a pharmacist with extensive field experience in pharmaceutical marketing across countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Having started his pharmacy career as a regulator working as head of licensing and enforcement, Pharmacy Council of Ghana, he joined Roche, Ghana as a medical representative in 2002. In 2005, he moved to Roche, South Africa, as a product manager and by 2008, had become the head of marketing for Roche sub-Saharan Africa, after which he moved to Cote d’Ivoire to take charge of the French speaking West countries in Africa for Roche. In June 2014, he was appointed country manager. Roch,Nigeria

In this interview with Pharmanews at Roche office in Lagos, recently, Addae spoke on the long term plan of Roche for the Nigeria’s health care sector, the challenge of health care financing, how to solve the problem of late disease diagnosis and how pharmaceutical companies can cope with the present economic downturn. Excerpts:

Roche has a long and interesting history here in Nigeria as one of the earliest multinational pharmaceutical company to be fully established in the country. The company even had a manufacturing plant at Dopemu, Lagos, before it left Nigeria in 1998. The factory is now owned by Swipha an indigenous company that emerged from the old Roche. Now that Roche is back after about 15 years absence, what should Nigerians expect from the company?

Yes, Roche has a long history with Nigeria and from that 1988 till date which you called absence, Roche was still fully represented in Nigeria by Swipha. We continued to work through Swipha which continued to produce all the products we had in the country under licence from Roche. Roche, however, has since come back as a legal entity in Nigeria actually since 2013, represented as Roche Products Limited.

In terms of what to expect, I will first say we would continue to be here. The plan of Roche for Nigeria is really long-term. We are looking at how best to fix our products and services and the opportunities we have for the Nigerian patients into the Nigerian space. This is because the situation in Nigeria does not replicate what you find in Europe or America. We are looking at how to tailor our solutions to the Nigerian environment. We believe that is what is going to deliver long term benefits to us and to Nigeria and Nigerians.

Roche is a leading global biotechnology company and prominent manufacturer of high-tech oncology products. However, most of these oncology products have been observed to be quite expensive and out of the reach of the average Nigerian; yet there are many Nigerians who have conditions requiring these products. How then do you hope to survive as a company in the Nigerian environment where majority of patients still spend out of their pockets for health care because they are not on health insurance?

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I think you are very right with your question. In most places of the world where health care delivery is advanced and quality care is guaranteed because the most updated and high quality products get to people who need them, the cost of health care is not left for the patient to bear.

In the most advanced countries, it is either the government is heavily subsidising the care or there is a very good insurance system in place to ensure patients get the solutions they need, irrespective of the cost. Thus, you are right to say that we are not in that situation in Nigeria yet and most patients that need such solutions have to pay out of their pocket and this makes the solutions out of the reach of most of those patients. It is for this reason that our company plans to partner with the government and other relevant stakeholders to help shape the health care environment in such a way that will make health care more accessible to most people.

I am happy to say that we are working closely with the Federal Ministry of Health, with some state governments and also some health management organisations. We are trying to push for programmes and policies that will make it easy for patients to have access to the care they need. It is not going to be a short journey or an easy one, but I am happy to say that we are motivated and we shall keep going because we have also seen that the Federal Ministry of Health is interested in going in this direction. This is a great motivation for us.

A major health care challenge in Nigeria and a number of other African countries is the issue of late diagnosis of health conditions. By the time most patients are diagnosed, it is usually too late to really help them. Your company, Roche, is also strong in medical diagnosis, how can the company help and what can be done to tackle this problem?

To solve the challenge of late diagnosis, we have to increase the awareness campaign on health care in the general population. The population needs to be well educated. People have to give priority attention to their health. They have to understand that health is paramount and it is the beginning of everything. The other thing is that due this to lack of awareness, when people have health issues, they tend to seek solutions that do not solve the problem. This is really what is leading to late presentation. So, if the general population is aware and the health care providet gets to see the patients early, we can take care of many health conditions properly.

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Lack of appropriate infrastructure is also a challenge. So, it is important that we have adequate infrastructure to deliver quality diagnosis to patient. This is one of the areas where Roche is working on with stakeholders. We are working to improve access to medical diagnosis in terms of infrastructure because Roche is a world leader in in vitro diagnosis.

We need to educate people to take their health and when they feel unwell they should go early for proper diagnosis. The health care providers should also be able to do the diagnosis; that is why the infrastructure has to be there.

But that is also a challenge because the required diagnostic infrastructure is not always there which sometimes results in wrong diagnosis and when the diagnosis is right there is a dearth of required infrastructure for proper treatment

You have made a valid point and it is part of the major scope of work that we are doing at Roche. One of the solutions that we proposed and currently working on with other stakeholders and the Federal Ministry of Health is to put our resources together and have seven centres across the country where people can get standard and quality cancer care comparable to the best anywhere in the world. We are calling them centres of excellence. That is a project we are working on and it has a very good support of the health ministry and we believe this will be a very good step to improve things on a very consistent basis.

The state of the Nigerian economy is affecting all sectors, including health, and analysts have said this will have dire consequences on the business sector in 2016. How is this affecting the pharmaceutical sector and how is Roche coping?

I don’t think we can run away from the present situation and it is not sudden because the handwriting had been on the wall for some time. It is indeed affecting everybody. However, economic downturn is a terrible opportunity to waste and the idea is to see how best to use this period to build foundations and pillars that when things improve, we can depend on and grow faster.  That said, let me reiterate that it is a challenging period but it is also a period of opportunity. One thing about the Nigerian economy is that, it always rebounds and when it bounces back, it always gets better than it used to be. So, if we look at history, we would be encouraged that this will not last forever. Things will improve and hopefully when it improves, it is going to even get better than it was before the downturn.

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What are the long and short-term plans of Roche? Is there any plan to build a new manufacturing plant for Roche in Nigeria?

Let me first reiterate that in the long-term, Roche is here to stay. In the short-term, our plan is to work with all stakeholders to put in place things that will make health care to be more sustainable. This, we are highly committed to. It is very rewarding and refreshing that the health authorities and stakeholders are also committed to this idea and that give us a lot of hope.

Regarding the idea of setting up a production plant here, Roche, I must say, has since moved from the manufacturing of smaller molecules to very high technology bigger molecules. For most of these bigger molecules, there is only one plant that is producing them in the whole world. As a starting point, one of the things we are pursuing is to get Nigeria involved in some of the clinical trials to generate the data requirement for some of these state-of-the-art products needed in Nigeria. That is very important to us. When this is done, we shall be able to know how some of these state-of-the-art products can be made available to Nigerians.

In the scope of the Roche world today, the idea is not to set up a lot of manufacturing plants in a lot places because the technology involved is very high and the kind of factory we have, the investments required to build them is very huge and this cannot be built everywhere. So, what we are doing is to generate Nigeria specific health data and we shall be able to take care of it.