This year’s World Health Day, we face unprecedented health disparities and overwhelming grief on a global scale, wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. From every corner of the world, nations and communities unite to suppress the virus that has turned our lives upside down.
More so than ever, we cannot ignore the disproportionate impact that all infectious diseases have on already vulnerable regions, exposing the long-lasting health inequalities festering in our healthcare systems. While HIV, TB and Malaria remain the top threats to the lives of people in lowest income societies, COVID-19 ravages these weakened regions, burdening their healthcare resources, which led to more suffering, avoidable illness, and premature death.
The gaps toward a fairer, healthier world
Strong visions, bold leadership and collective actions from healthcare leaders and beyond are needed to turn the tide of this tragedy. Moving forward, health equality should be the heart of the pharmaceutical industry’s mission and the guiding principle for how we invest, innovate, operate and enter partnerships.
Pharmaceutical companies must contribute to understanding and addressing the unique and diversified needs of different communities. We must continue bridging expertise and resources through fostering effective partnerships, expanding the developing world’s access to affordable and sustainable care, and working with patients along their entire journey.
HIV-AIDS is still a major cause of death
HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed almost 33 million lives to date. According to latest figures by UNAIDS, an estimated 38 million people still live with HIV, of which 67 percent of adults and 53 percent of children receive lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART). Though much progress has been made, 690,000 people still died in 2019 due to gaps in access to the HIV healthcare, while 1.7 million more people were infected.
Through collaborations with UNITAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), Viatris has worked extensively on enhancing access of a variety of ARTs to the low and middle-income countries’ and has been one of the first generic suppliers to launch every novel antiretroviral drug (ARV) combination to market (including TLE, TEE, TLD, TLE 400, TAFED, LPV/r and ATV/r). As a result of our continued efforts in research and development, capacity enhancements, partnerships, we were able to significantly reduce prices of the HIV treatment by 80 percent, in the past decade, and providing access to over 40 percent of all HIV patients around the globe, and over 60 percent of HIV infected children.
In addition, our advances in ART research continue to this day, with one of our latest treatments being a pill that dissolves in water or milk so children born with HIV can easily ingest necessary dosages. With innovations and partnerships, we hope to lead the way to reaching the remaining 33 percent of HIV-positive people who still have no access to treatment.
Drug-resistant tuberculosis remains a public health threat
Drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) is a major contributor to antimicrobial resistance worldwide and continues to be a threat to public health. According to WHO, every year, around half a million people globally fall ill to drug-resistant TB, with 200,000 of them eventually succumbing to the disease; only 1 in 3 of these patients have access to TB treatment and, of those treated, only 56 percent are treated successfully.
The WHO called out last month that an estimate of 1.4 million fewer people received care for tuberculosis in the face of COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 compared to that in 2019 and feared that more than half a million may have succumbed to the virus. We are reminded that TB is preventable and treatable but remains one of the world’s top infectious killers because too many people go undiagnosed.
Our partnership with the TB Alliance provides access to treatment of multi-drug-resistant TB to low and middle-income countries at just US$2 a day, aiming to provide fillip to global efforts that have saved an estimated 63 million lives from TB since the year 2000.
Proud as we are of how far we have come, more work must be done, and more partnerships must be cultivated. Our efforts to combat infectious diseases, particularly in vulnerable communities, could further hinder our plight to ensure equitable access to disease prevention and treatment in line with the WHO’s drive towards achieving Universal Health Coverage.
Indeed, “the clock is ticking,” and the time to act is now.
Creating a better tomorrow together
This global pandemic has demonstrated the devastating impact of infectious diseases, but it has also shown how quickly we can mobilize resources, technology and expertise to fight against infectious diseases when motivated and collectively aligned. We need to build on this momentum and start a renaissance in providing affordable, accessible healthcare treatment covering infectious diseases through focussed and sustainable R&D.
We are also more aware than ever that, when it comes to infectious diseases, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Let us continue fostering global partnerships and moving away from healthcare nationalism, breaking down barriers to healthcare access so we can effectively diagnose, treat and eradicate the most prominent infectious diseases faced by our vulnerable communities.
Building a fairer, healthier world requires commitment to innovation and comprehensive actions encompassing all stakeholders in the healthcare sector. Together, we look forward to a world where healthcare systems are resilient and robust enough to sustain essential services while steadily advancing, and all countries have integrated programs to prevent epidemics and reach patients who need access to such healthcare systems.
About the Author
Chandrashekhar Potkar, Regional Chief Medical Officer, Emerging Markets & Head, Global NCD Excellence