VIDEO: Novartis in tackling chronic disease in Africa

Rwanda has become the third country to sign a memorandum of understanding with Novartis Access after Kenya and Ethiopia, which will help the Rwandan government to increase investment in prevention, diagnosis and treatment of chronic diseases (NCDs). First Novartis Access product deliveries are expected in early 2017.

Novartis announced this on Tuesday, during an event on Improving care for patients chronic diseases in lower-income countries hosted by Novartis Access and the Novartis Foundation. The dialogue convened public health experts, government representatives, NGOs and academia. Together they explored ways to improve the continuum of care for patients suffering from chronic disease in lower-income countries.

Novartis Access  is a portfolio of 15 on- and off-patent medicines against key chronic diseases, which is offered to governments and public-sector customers at a price of USD 1 per treatment per month. Since the program’s launch in September 2015, more than 100,000 monthly treatments have been delivered to Kenya, Ethiopia and Lebanon, Novartis sad. Capacity-building activities to screen and diagnose people for diabetes and hypertension have started in Kenya, and discussions are ongoing to introduce the program in more than 10 countries across three continents. Preparing the ground for future country roll-outs, 312 products have been submitted to health authorities for regulatory approval in 19 countries.

“Novartis is committed to bringing affordable drugs to people in lower-income countries – but affordability is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Joseph Jimenez, Chief Executive Officer of Novartis. “Addressing the underlying causes of poor health at the scale needed in these countries requires that governments and NGOs collaborate with companies to incorporate private-sector expertise and resources. This isn’t just desirable, it’s essential.”

A challenging year

Despite progress, Novartis says, the past 12 months have brought to the fore some challenges. In particular, experience on the ground shows that the portfolio approach requires a paradigm shift in how countries procure medicines. In addition, national essential medicines lists are not regularly updated, hindering countries from purchasing Novartis Access medicines. Furthermroe, healthcare systems in lower-income countries are often ill-equipped to deliver quality care as they are constrained by an under-investment in infrastructure, which leads to a lack of clinics and hospitals, shortage of medical staff, poor medicine distribution networks and low numbers of trained healthcare providers.

“Programs like Novartis Access can help change the way patients approach chronic diseases,” says Dr. Jonathan Kiliko, Head of Customer Services at Mission for Essential Drugs and Supplies (MEDS). “A virtuous circle of peer education starts when patients know that early diagnosis and treatment can help them live well for many years. They start to teach the rest of the community about the benefits of being screened and treated. This has already been seen in HIV/AIDS, and is likely to be replicated with NCDs.”

Managing NCDs is particularly challenging in lower-income countries as they are faced with the dual disease burden of infectious and chronic diseases, Novartis has noted. Twenty-eight million people die every year from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, respiratory diseases and cancers in these countries, representing nearly 75% of deaths from NCDs globally

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