Achieving Global Health Equity: The Time is Now

The BIO International Convention provides a wonderful annual stage on which to celebrate the achievements of the life sciences industry while also highlighting the challenges and opportunities we continue to face as a global community. At Johnson & Johnson, we have a long-standing, deliberate and focused strategy aimed at solving some of the most difficult global health challenges, including advancing equitable access to care.

This year at the BIO International Convention, I was honored to join an esteemed panel of experts for the session Achieving Health Equity with BioPharma and MedTech to offer our perspectives on addressing barriers to delivering transformational medicines and medical technologies to people living in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). We shared our experiences and insights and collectively challenged participants to develop and implement strategies for transformational change. It was an inspiring and motivating conversation that reminded me once again of the critical importance of collaboration within and across sectors.

For more than 25 years, J&J has worked tirelessly to advance equitable access to care, and it is in this spirit that I share some of the learnings and our strategic and collaborative approach.

Our strategies are grounded in the understanding that there are diseases that disproportionately impact people living in LMICs and that advances in medicine and medical technologies have traditionally been:

  • Inaccessible: More than 2 billion people globally have no access to modern medicines
  • Slow: It can be up to 7 years before an intervention approved in a high-income country is available in an LMIC
  • Sub-optimal: R&D for diseases that disproportionately impact people in LMICs is limited—less than 20% of clinical trials are conducted in LMICs and a mere 0.2% of biomedical research funding goes to LMICs

Addressing systemic health inequities requires a systematic approach to change, from discovery and development to the delivery of health innovation. That is one of the reasons why for every medicine in our pipeline, access planning is an early part of our R&D process, particularly for priority diseases in LMICs. Our pricing principles also include collaboration with international funders, local governments, non-governmental organizations, and other collaborators to offer accessible and affordable medicines.

But getting from the lab to the last mile takes a lot more. After all, an innovation is only as meaningful as the people it can reach and the lives it can impact. Given this basic truth, we have gone beyond through our dedicated Global Public Health (GPH) unit to tackle inequities across R&D, financing, policy, health systems and supply chains, and support for frontline healthcare workers and patients.

Last year, our GPH team impacted the lives 295 million people in LMICs and played a vital role in combating tuberculosis (TB), HIV, and serious mental illness in traditionally underserved communities. This includes supplying treatment for drug-resistant TB for the majority of eligible patients and bolstering case-finding efforts in high burden countries; expanding access to mental health care in Rwanda by helping train 65,000 community health workers and expanding access to second generation antipsychotics; and assessing the use of drone technology to deliver critical HIV medication in remote parts of Uganda. We constantly challenge ourselves to ensure we are applying the best possible approaches and acting with urgency and innovation.

It was truly moving to be back live at BIO this week to share a sense of common purpose with my fellow participants. As we at J&J tell each other every day, addressing the world’s greatest public health problems requires a great many things. Among them is a natural curiosity, an openness to new ideas and broad perspective, a sense of urgency in our work and shared purpose in our collaborations together. But above all, one could say it takes the passion and commitment to always ask “What If?” and “Why Not?”.

Nothing in our professional lives will ever be more important. The world is waiting. The time is now.