Mahesh Karande is the Head of the Africa Cluster for Novartis. In this role, he is responsible for leading Novartis business activities in sub-Saharan Africa. 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?
Mahesh 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 (NCDs) 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.
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?
Mahesh 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 speciality 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 Organisation’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 programmes 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?
Mahesh 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 channelled 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.