L-R: Johanna Ralston, CEO, World Heart Federation; Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ); Abbas Gullet, Secretary General, Kenya Red Cross; Celina Schocken, CEO, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon; Anthony Gitau, Kenya Country Head, Novartis Access; and Rebecca Stevens, Head, Access Partnerships, Novartis Access
On Tuesday, Novartis Access in conjunction with Representatives Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman, Africa and Global Health Subcommittee; Eliot Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member, House Foreign Affairs Committee; and Karen Bass (D-CA), Ranking Member, Africa and Global Health Subcommittee, held a congressional briefing on access to medicines for non-communicable diseases. Novartis Access is providing an innovative portfolio of 15 medicines that will treat diabetes, heart disease, respiratory disease and breast cancer, for governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in low income countries. A first in the industry, the Novartis Access portfolio is offered as a basket to governments, NGOs and other public-sector healthcare providers at a price of USD 1 per treatment per month.
Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon CEO Celina Schocken participated in a panel organized by Novartis Access to testify to the burden of non-communicable diseases in low and lower-middle income countries (LLMICs) and the innovative ways Novartis Access, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, and other organizations are addressing the need for medicines and other health services. Anthony Gitau, the Kenya Country Head of Novartis Access, moderated the panel, which consisted of Ms. Schocken; Johanna Ralston, the Chief Executive Officer of the World Heart Federation; and Abbas Gullet, the Secretary General of the Kenya Red Cross Society.
Representatives Smith and Bass opened the briefing, speaking to the growing burden of non-communicable diseases, which kill 38 million people a year, 75% of whom live in LLMICs. Representative Smith praised the PEPFAR program for reversing the tide of HIV/AIDS, but stressed that more needs to be done for NCDs. Ms. Ralston then spoke to the epidemiological burden of NCDs in developing countries and focused on the need for political prioritization, integration, strong public-private partnerships, and resources for development funding. Dr. Gullet spoke about his experiences in Kenya, focusing on the need for early detection, social mobilization, and awareness raising through communities and faith-based organizations.
Ms. Schocken testified to the need to prevent, diagnose, and treat breast and cervical cancers, NCDs that disproportionately affect women, and therefore families, in LLMICs. Early detection saves lives; if cancers are caught early, cancer becomes a treatable disease and not a death sentence, lifting the stigma of a cancer diagnosis and improving women’s health. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon’s partnership with Novartis will help expand breast cancer care through early detection, building the capacity of health workers to diagnose breast cancer, and increasing access to immunohistochemistry to better target drugs and appropriately treat cancers. This partnership will decrease the stigma of breast cancer and motivate health workers, breaking down barriers to health care delivery beyond those of access to medicines. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon also provides “wraparound” services to address other barriers to care, such as providing transportation and lodging for women who need to travel long distances to seek advanced treatment. Ms. Schocken called for integrating breast cancer care into reproductive health services, in order to reach women whenever they visit health facilities, which will screen even more women for cancer, reduce stigma, and ultimately reduce the burden of disease. These services, in conjunction with Novartis Access’ affordable medicines, will go a long way to improving women’s health.
Many thanks to Representatives Smith, Engel, and Bass for their sponsorship of this briefing, and to Novartis Access for organizing the event. Partnerships such as that between Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon and Novartis Access, with support from the U.S. government, will help us to save lives together.
By Meera Sarathy, MPH, MBA, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Country Program Manager