16 July 2018
Jacqueline Berlin

We are improving access to health

400 million people lack access to essential health services. Boehringer Ingelheim is eager to change that. Dr. Antonio Ruffolo, Head of Access to Healthcare and Global Health Policy, talks about the brand-new "BI's Access to Healthcare Strategy

Antonio Ruffolo is running late for the interview. He is deeply sorry and takes a deep breath as he is sitting down with MyBI on the fourth floor of the NVG building in Ingelheim. "These are busy times", says the Argentinian with a smile on his face, who had just finished a phone call with colleagues in the META Region and at a university in Kenya. "We were discussing a partnership to implement our first disease management program in Western Kenya."


Ruffolo has just been appointed as Head of Access to Healthcare and Global Health Policy and leads a cross functional team that is working to implement Boehringer Ingelheim's Access to Healthcare Strategy. The approach is driven by the desire to serve mankind by improving human and animal health – both locally and globally. 400 million people all over the world lack access to essential health services. Ruffolo and his team are looking to make a change and to help people in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.


Mr Ruffolo, Boehringer Ingelheim has a long history of philanthropy and social responsibility. What do we need a new Access to Healthcare Strategy for?


Ruffolo: It is true that Boehringer Ingelheim feels a special responsibility for our communities and our resources since its founding in 1885. And we worked hard for decades to support human and animal health all over the world – including developing countries. We have had several projects in numerous countries, but what was missing is a global strategy with clear targets, objectives and expected outcomes; a governance structure, a guiding initiative to combine all the ideas and projects and a forum to spread our knowledge. To your specific question, Access to Healthcare goes beyond our track records since it is an integral part of the corporate business strategy, the only way to ensure access sustainability.


Therefore, you have developed a three-pillar-strategic framework.


Yes. In an effort to meet our aspiration, we developed a framework based on three keywords. It all starts with a sharp focus on ,Availability'. Boehringer Ingelheim has one of the strongest medical Research & Development pipelines globally for areas of unmet need in developing countries. But the journey of a medicine from the factory to patients and communities in poorer parts of the world is often long and difficult. Regulatory hurdles, lack of infrastructure, and the presence of falsified medicines mean that some life-saving treatments do not reach the people who need them. We want to change that and want to ensure that our compounds are readily and responsibly available.


That is a great approach. But how do you want to ensure that our products that can save millions of lives are not only available – but also affordable for people in poor countries who often do not have a health insurance or any savings?


Well, our second pillar – called  ,Sustainable Access Models' – deals with this important question. We want to make health solutions available by developing innovative and differentiated philanthropic and commercial strategies to ensure their affordability. Microfinancing, for instance, can be used to help patients in such communities save and spend on medical services. Secondly, partnerships between governments, NGOs and the private sector can provide low-income, uninsured patients with discounted or free innovative medicines. And, last but not least, we are working on inter- and intra-country tiered pricing strategy to redress disparities between countries and income groups within those countries.


What is the third pillar of your framework?


We believe that access to health begins when local communities are committed to take control of their own well-being. We want to prevent illness, before looking to cure it. Our goal is therefore to become a leading partner in the development of integrated, people-centered health solutions to help equip underserved communities with sufficient knowledge, expertise, infrastructure and means to ensure their ongoing access to health. We call this approach ,Innovative Solutions for Awareness and Adherence'.


That sounds absolutely inspiring. But: Developing countries are primarily known for their struggles to fight HIV and Malaria. This is not a core business of Boehringer Ingelheim. How can we help best in Africa, Asia and Latin America?


HIV and Malaria are providing huge challenges, that is correct. But diabetes, strokes or cancer are main problems in these regions as well. Obesity, for example, is an unexpected epidemic in Kenya. I truly believe that we can help best if we focus our efforts in the areas we know best. Non-communicable diseases make up 85 per cent of our medicines portfolio. These 'chronic diseases' are together responsible for the deaths of 31 million people in low- and middle-income countries, growing number – we know our treatments can save increasing numbers of lives.


And we can also help improving animal health – which is essential for millions of people in developing countries.


Absolutely. We recognize that when animals are healthy, humans are healthier too. Many infectious diseases are transmissible between animals and humans. In low- and middle-income countries, livestock are also a vital source of nutrition and income. Diseases can have devastating effects on local communities. We already provide animal healthcare in 150 markets around the world. Our aim is to ensure an ever-greater reach.


Talking about your goals, what are you looking to achieve – short-term as well as long-term?


As I mentioned earlier, we together with the META region are in advanced discussions with potential partners in Kenya to launch a main project, the so-called "Guiding Light Initiative". By putting our three strategic pillars into action there, we are exploring and evaluating a differentiated holistic approach for broadening healthcare access for underserved communities within and across countries. By 2025, we aim to have taken what we have learned and extend our best practices to many current and new markets. Our vision is to be a leader in ensuring improved access in low- and middle-income countries. We believe a healthier world means better business for all.


Author: Tim Rahmann


"400 million people all over the world lack access to essential health services: Ruffolo and his team are looking to make a change "
Jacqueline Berlin
Dr. Antonio Ruffolo, Head of Access to Healthcare and Global Health Policy
Dr. Antonio Ruffolo, Head of Access to Healthcare and Global Health Policy

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