Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc.: Working to eliminate malaria
A Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc. employee has returned from a volunteer mission in malaria-stricken Tanzania full of hope that a program he participated in will lead to timely access to life-saving medicines.
In Africa, a child dies of malaria every 30 seconds from the mosquito-borne disease. Mike Lazarovits, a Toronto-based field manager, helped train healthcare workers in the use of a text-messaging inventory system. This is aimed at eliminating shortfalls of medicine at some 5,000 remote rural clinics.
“It was truly a life changing experience,” he said upon his return. “I wanted to make a difference and be an agent of change.”
While Mike volunteered his vacation time to undertake the venture, his travel was sponsored by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc. with the creation of its initiative entitled “Novartis Overseas Corporate Social Responsibility”. This program enables employees to contribute their expertise as a free resource to one of many Novartis global partnerships.
“Being right there on the ground to help launch a global program brought home to me just how involved Novartis is in the area of social responsibility in the developing world,” Mike said.
It’s in Africa, that mosquitos carry the most deadly strain of malaria and where 90-percent of related deaths occur. Malaria is Africa’s leading cause of death in children under five, mainly through lack of access to anti-malaria medication.
As a result, Novartis has taken a lead in providing its Coartem (artemisinin) at no profit for public sector use. Coartem is a highly effective malaria treatment taken orally for three days with cure rates of 95 percent.
The delivery of 74 million treatments in 2008 represented one of the largest and fastest scale-ups the industry has seen.
In July 2009, Novartis also became the first healthcare company to join United Against Malaria (UAM), a consortium that strives to raise awareness of the disease and end malaria deaths in Africa by 2015.
The SMS for Life project team which Mike joined is part of another awareness partnership called Roll Back Malaria. SMS was being piloted in three remote regions of Tanzania using the Short Message Service (SMS) technology.
This enables remote clinics and other health facilities to use cell phones to send weekly text-message updates on inventory to a central website.
When shortfalls are discovered, the District Medical Officer can send the district malaria point person by cross-country motorbike to replenish supplies. In an emergency, one clinic can be referred to another nearby to obtain what is required.
Novartis has taken the lead globally to jointly fund, design and build the messaging system using cell phones and electronic mapping technology.
“This is Novartis sharing true social responsibility and taking a lead with the adoption of this new technology which will save lives,” Mike said.
Other SMS partners include IBM, Vodaphone, Google Maps, the Roll Back Malaria initiative and the Tanzanian Ministry of Health.
Implementing the program required the training of health workers not only in the new technology but also, in some cases, the fundamentals of organizing their stock on shelves according to product, dose sizes and expiry dates.
Mike’s professional and personal expertise enabled him to hit the ground running in the transfer of knowledge. Some clinics, he found, had such limited shelf space they had to keep their medicines in boxes piled on the floor. This compounded the challenges of inventory control.
At the start of the pilot, information revealed that 76 percent of facilities had a shortage of one or more product formulations of Coartem or quinine injectable, a product used in critical cases. “Imagine if someone had gone to one of those clinics needing immediate help!” Mike said.
“As of November 2009, results from the pilot were much better than expected and very exciting. We trained and are collecting data from 139 health facilities of which 94 percent are participating weekly.”
It is hoped, he added, that the early successes from this pilot, “are only the beginning of a broad spectrum of positive changes that SMS for Life can provide to Tanzania and greater Africa.”
“I’ve seen the direct result of how lives have already been saved with this pilot project,” Mike explained.
In his 15 days with the project, Mike visited two hospitals and 19 medical outposts. He personally trained 75 healthcare workers, and visited a Congo refugee camp in Tanzania as well as a state prison health facility – all venues where access to malaria medicine is vital in curbing the spread of disease.
“I stared into the eyes of severe malaria patients, many of them infants and parents, and assured them that a healthy outcome lay ahead. It conveyed to me the significance of quick access to our medicines and of the important social role Novartis is playing in helping eliminate malaria through its many partnerships in social responsibility.”
“Thanks to the financial support from Novartis this experience has provided me with a firsthand opportunity to participate in the company’s culture ‘of doing the right thing’ and embracing its Canadian motto of ‘Being the difference’,” added Mike.
On March 7th, 1996 Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy, the two Swiss-based chemical/life sciences giants, became Novartis
We are a leader in offering medicines to protect health, cure disease and improve well-being.