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For Roche Chairman Christoph Franz, the answer to the world’s growing healthcare challenges lies in stronger global partnerships. He describes the alliance of private sector companies like Roche and national governments, alongside bodies like the World Bank, as “absolutely crucial”.

“The challenges are too complex for either the public or the private sector to address them alone,” says Franz. “It is indispensable to address them jointly in order to overcome inequalities.”

While Roche and fellow leaders in the pharmaceutical industry invest in developing innovations and widening access to healthcare, Franz stresses that “there must be a commitment from governments to adequately invest into healthcare. It needs to go hand in hand.”

Noting that the challenges surrounding access to healthcare vary dramatically from country to country – with funding, infrastructure, healthcare capacity and disease awareness all playing a role – Franz argues that partnerships and collaborations are the best way to address these issues in a targeted way.

Chairman Christoph Franz

To identify patients’ needs and the barriers blocking their access to healthcare, Roche actively seeks out partners with the expertise, relationships and power that the company cannot provide on its own, or those that can amplify Roche’s current capabilities.

“We put access at the centre of our business and consider it a key part of our commitment to patients and to society at large,” states Franz. In both Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics, Roche has set out wide-ranging goals for the future: doubling patient numbers for its medicines in low and medium-income countries (LMICs) by 2026 and doubling patient access to important diagnostic solutions and medical advances by 2030 – at lower cost to society.

To achieve these ambitious targets, Roche highlights the vital importance of partnerships, says Franz: “We are eager to foster an open dialogue between the public sector, private sector and various stakeholders across the healthcare spectrum and ultimately patients to bring our innovations to those who need it the most. Regardless of the location or under which circumstances they live.”

Luck of the geographical draw – where access to healthcare depends on where someone lives – has impacted many communities throughout history and continues to do so. Recent advances in technology, like telemedicine and remote consultation, however, are reducing the impacts of such arbitrary distinctions.

“We put access at the centre of our business and consider it a key part of our commitment to patients and to society at large,”

Franz

“I firmly believe in utilising new technologies in healthcare to improve patient outcomes. Telecommunication for example has enabled physicians to reach patients who can’t physically show up for consultation. We can now take pictures of our moles and send it to a dermatologist who will then analyse it and inform us if it looks abnormal. The pandemic has shown that telemedicine was and is a key tool for people around the world to take care of their health and stay in contact with healthcare professionals.”

Nevertheless, patients in LMICs may lack both access to technology and sufficient disease awareness – something the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated, according to Franz, leading to higher global health inequalities. Roche sees its role as identifying how individuals can benefit from its innovations: to improve their health and, potentially, save their lives.

“Is it funding? Is it healthcare capacity? Is it awareness or diagnosis?” asks Franz. “Over the years we have learned it is usually a combination and we can only overcome these challenges by aiming at multiple targets.” If there is low disease awareness in a population, for example, increasing the number of healthcare workers on its own may not solve the problem. Equally: “You can’t expect people to seek medical consultation if it is not clear how this will be paid for. Nobody wants to go bankrupt.”

Roche devotes substantial resources to widening access to healthcare in LMICs, where more than half the world’s population lives. “We support universal health coverage,” says Franz. He cites the company’s Global Access Program as a particularly impactful initiative, helping to overcome limited access to diagnostic solutions. Since its launch in 2014, the program has expanded to more than 80 countries and includes testing for tuberculosis, hepatitis B and C, Covid-19 and human papillomavirus.

Above all, Franz urges healthcare stakeholders across the spectrum to form closer partnerships to tackle barriers to access. “Let’s come together to share, discuss and work together,” he says. “We are all part of the solution.”

Join the Conversation! As part of Roche's 125 years celebration, LifeTalks are a series of live events designed to inspire and stimulate fresh and diverse thinking while discussing potential solutions to global challenges to healthcare and beyond. Find out more here.

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