The pharmaceutical climate has changed over the past 5 years. Innovative medical treatments and cures for a large number of previously difficult to treat medical conditions have become available. However, making these solutions accessible to the patients that need them is not always an easy task. Selim Sezgin, Country Manager, Pfizer Thailand and Indochina, discusses how the country is balancing between affordable healthcare and budget allocations.
It has been forecasted that by 2021, Thailand will become a full-fledged aged society with the elderly comprising around 20% of the population. Long life expectancy rates demand progressive healthcare. Over the past year, the approval process for new medicine in Thailand has been expedited. Previously a 2-year process approval now takes less than 1 year for many products. Acceleration of the process enabled a rush of new products into the Thai market very quickly. For instance, Pfizer Thailand was able to bring four innovative products to the country in 2019. Accessibility to these products, however, is still limited to certain segments of the society. The lack of affordable solutions continues to be a challenge to the progress of Thai healthcare.
Pfizer Thailand is currently looking at different partnership opportunities with the government to introduce innovative access solutions to better serve the Thai population. In a recent survey, the company found that for every dollar invested in clinical trials, as part of research and development, the economy sees a three-fold return on this investment. That is not to say that the budget is insufficient. Rather, healthcare in the country is falling short due to the insufficient allocation of funds that proliferate an ecosystem of innovation. Sezgin claims that savings that were generated through the healthcare spending should continuously be reinvested into ensuring that breakthroughs are spanned to every Thai citizen. The proper allocation of budget would allow a fair marketplace where “innovative products” multisource or generic products are given the same opportunity as ‘multi-source” innovative products. This environment results to a healthier competition and a more progressive society.
Looking into the current Covid-19 outbreak, Sezgin states that the company is prioritizing the well-being of its people. Employees in affected areas have been instructed to stop working, and global donations of approved medicines are currently being dispatched. While no cure has been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), the company strongly enforces preventive guidelines to its staff and continuously coordinates with governments to support the fight against the spread of Covid-19.
In light of the matter, Sezgin takes the opportunity to instill the importance of immunization. Thailand, despite being one of the leading countries in Southeast Asia, is not in the forefront of national immunization. He states that extending the right amount of vaccinations to all citizens uplifts not only patient but also, the economy. The prevention of diseases minimizes hospital costs and administration fees. These expenditures tend to cause a strain on low-income areas. According to WHO, after clean water, vaccination is the most effective public health intervention in the world for saving lives and promoting good health. Allocating budget towards immunization, which is being increasingly perceived universal right, is an indispensable component of a progressive society.
During Pfizer’s 61 years in Thailand, it has become the country’s leading pharmaceutical company with its largest segment catering to government institutions. In 2018, it was able to tap into 6 million patients, and it aims to double that figure in the next two to three years. Sezgin claims that the company owes much of its success to its dedicated employees who have worked hard to continuously improve the healthcare system of the country. He furthers that by stating the Pfizer’s employees in Thailand essentially work for a Thai company. The majority of the staff are Thai, and because of that, Pfizer Thailand has a duty to help improve the lives of the Thai people. The company is geared towards bringing 25 breakthroughs in the next five years. It is also pioneering the digitalization of communication channels between healthcare professionals. This technology aims to improve efficiency and cooperation among all stakeholders and beneficiaries within the healthcare system. Sezgin emphasized the importance of having a mutual understanding between all governing bodies on what innovation is.
In its endeavor to ameliorate Thai healthcare, the company started Pfizer Thailand Foundation. In its 19 years of establishment, it has been able to provide scholarships to over 300 students and doctors. They are given the opportunity to work in regions of Thailand in need of resources. It has recently culminated a 3-year project focused on educating citizens on healthy aging. Aimed to develop awareness in terms of healthy living and financial well-being, the foundation has also worked with various agencies such as World Vision to reach less-privileged areas.
Pfizer Thailand targets to reach every citizen in the country. By conducting quarterly visits to doctors and pharmacists in various areas of the country, Sezgin and his team are able to help cater to the needs of Thailand as a whole. The company prides itself in its long-term initiative to ensure that no citizen gets left behind in their ability to access the latest in innovative healthcare solutions.