World Malaria Day
By Richard Francis
Richard Francis is Division Head & CEO, Sandoz, and Member of the Novartis Executive Committee
I reflect occasionally on why I’m so proud to work in the pharmaceutical industry, and for Sandoz particularly. Yesterday - World Malaria Day - was one of those days that the answer leapt out at me.
Malaria, whilst often forgotten about in the West, is still a life-threatening disease for many, especially children. Caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female mosquitoes, it brings devastation and misery to millions.
According to the WHO, globally, about 3.2 billion people – nearly half of the world’s population – are at risk of malaria. In 2015, there were an estimated 214 million new cases of malaria and 438,000 deaths, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. Although preventable and treatable, malaria still claims the life of one child every two minutes1 and millions of people are still not accessing the services they need to prevent, diagnose and treat malaria.2
So, whilst over the past one hundred and fifty years, scientific progress and medical breakthroughs have been spectacular, a healthy life is still not a given.
Global milestones such as the UN Sustainable Development Summit which took place in September last year have shown that there is significant recognition of the global threat posed by malaria and of the need to scale up efforts to control and eliminate the disease.3
So why am I proud to work for a pharmaceutical company? Because I work for a company that is dedicated to tackling this dreadful disease.
The Novartis Malaria Initiative - operated by the Sandoz Division of Novartis since April 1 this year - is committed to driving research, development and access to novel drugs to eliminate malaria. It is one of the pharmaceutical industry’s largest access-to-medicine programs. Since 2001, it has delivered more than 750 million treatments (including 300 million pediatric formulations) without profit, mostly to the public sector of malaria-endemic countries. In collaboration with our partners, our R&D efforts have already yielded two compounds with novel mechanisms of action and the potential to become next-generation antimalarial treatments.
The Initiative works with a range of partners to procure treatment for public sector use. These include UNICEF, the United States President’s Malaria Initiative, the United Nations Development Program, Doctors Without Borders and international procurement agencies.
Malaria eradication requires a comprehensive range of interventions, from bed nets and spraying for prevention to diagnostics and medicines to treat the disease and block its transmission.
Novartis has been in the front ranks of a change in the treatment of malaria by launching a new class of antimalarial medicines known as artemisinin-based combination therapies, or ACTs, and later, in partnership with the Medicines for Malaria Venture, the first dispersible ACT tailored to meet the needs of children, the most vulnerable to malaria. Today, ACTs have become the standard of care.
And, beyond discovering next-generation treatments, a key focus of our work is to find innovative and creative ways to expand access to medicines. For example, through SMS for Life, we are using mobile technology as an enabler to manage medicine stock levels in rural health facilities and expand access and, through our private-sector access program, we are delivering affordable medicines to the emerging middle class in Africa.
But, increasing access to medicines in developing countries is not just a matter of buying drugs and distributing them. It is also about building capacity on the ground by bringing together training in disease management, logistics management and other types of expertise to ensure long-term health impacts.
So, the challenge is clear: With a child dying from malaria every two minutes and the threat of drug resistance growing year-on-year, there is a real urgency to step up global efforts to combat this disease. But programs such as our Malaria Initiative and the work of our partners are having a real impact and together I believe we can meet this challenge head on.
My final thought is this: please, show your support for World Malaria Day today. You can join the conversation using the World Malaria Day 2016 hashtag on Twitter - #endmalaria.
- World Health Organization, World Malaria Report 2015: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/200018/1/9789241565158_eng.pdf?ua=1 . Last accessed January 2016