Roche targets Africa for future growth

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Roche has unveiled plans to expand its footprint in parts of Africa, “a continent with tremendous potential” where one in every four persons (about 330 million) is a middle-to-upper income earner. 

Peter Hug, head of the Swiss giant’s pharma operations in the EEMEA (Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa) region, said the new strategy is aimed at increasing access to its innovative treatments for patients in Sub-Saharan Africa, “while creating an attractive and long-term sustainable business opportunity for Roche…in a compliant comprehensive manner.”

The strategy focuses on 20 countries, starting with seven in 2015, with a focus on viral hepatitis and cancers in women such as breast, cervical and ovarian. Some initiatives have already been launched, for example in Ivory Coast, where Roche has entered into an agreement with the government to provide access to low-income patients for breast cancer and hepatitis medicines through a four-tiered program of awareness, diagnosis, training of healthcare professionals and treatment access. 

Access barriers

There are several key access barriers that need to be overcome in SSA, according to Charles Fordjour, head of the Africa Strategy Implementation team. Most of these countries do not have enough medical specialists and the quality of many healthcare institutions is poor, he said, adding that “governments are not able to prioritise cancer treatment and their expertise in biologics is extremely limited.”

Mr Fordjour also noted competition in the area from other multinationals plus South African and Indian generics companies which are “increasingly making their presence felt”. He said the firm also needs “to play our part in improving funding and infrastructure. However, it is very clear that it is not Roche’s role to build hospitals, hire physicians, donate drugs or build plants for local manufacturing”.