Basics can Keep India Healthy: Witty
GSK boss says active lifestyle and sensible eating can keep country fit
Mumbai : The best way for any country to ensure the well-being of its people is to see that they follow an active lifestyle, eat sensibly and generally follow the precepts of prevention. Sound advice from Andrew Witty the global CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, the $33-billion British pharma-to-vaccines giant. That will help create an affordable and effective healthcare system, he said in an interview. A self-confessed In-dophile, Witty will be one of the key speakers at the Airtel-Economic Times Global Business Summit to be held in Delhi on January 29-30.
Sanitation, Vaccines Key: Witty
Witty will be addressing an audience that comprises the political and business leadership of the country along with global figures.
As the man leading the charge at one of the world's biggest drug companies, what he has to say will command much attention as India's healthcare system evolves amid accelerating private investment. Witty noted that the challenges related to healthcare policies and access to medicines were discussed at length by ministers at the recent World Economic Forum summit in Davos.
He said India was GSK's most important market and reiterated the company's "deep commitment" to it. India tops in volume of medicines sold by GSK.
"As against many other emerging markets, I see India moving into a more positive territory supported by a very strong demographic trend and very high quality skills of the Indian people," Witty said.
Sanitation and use of vaccines were among a few key measures that India needs to consider in moving forward with healthcare reforms, Witty said. Those formed critical and fundamental components of a strong health infrastructure, he said.
Although pushed by its growing middle class, India's healthcare infrastructure isn't keeping up with the swelling demand for doctors and hospital beds. Witty sees a "fascinating opportunity" in creating capabilities in healthcare delivery systems that are more flexible and elastic, as opposed to the large hospital networks that the western nations are saddled with.
"The West has over the years created large hospitals and it is getting increasingly clear that many , many hospitals may not be fit as these have created an enormous health service system that may not be necessarily aligned with new technologies," Witty noted. "And so in terms of new technologies, India has a great opportunity in leveraging the digital revolution, using the wireless systems and leveraging the whole virtual opportunity that might give it a generation's leap over the West and that will be a fascinating opportunity."
The GSK chief advocated a balanced public-private funding mechanism for the country describing that as an "extraordinary positive opportunity" to develop and design a health system that can work as a pre-health intervention.
"I hope India does not try and copy what is done in the West because if you ask people in the West today, they will say probably they would not start from where they had and may want to do something different, "he said. Witty's thoughts are significant and well-timed. Over the past decade, he's steered GSK through some of the toughest market conditions, the threat of a pipeline drought and profitability concerns.
The company underwent a transformation process in key operational areas as GSK broke its research establishment into smaller, goal-oriented discovery performance units that cut the cost of research and led to higher productivity. It adopted an aggressive emerging-markets strategy to drive sales in high-growth countries and arrest declining sales from stagnating markets such as Europe. The business was recast to sharply focus on selective areas within pharmaceuticals, vaccines and consumer products.
GSK is among the oldest multinational pharmaceutical companies in India and over recent years has seen the infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to accelerate its local market strategy. This includes increasing the equity holding in its two local units and investments to build a large manufacturing base near Bengaluru.
On the oft-debated subject of protection of intellectual property (IP), Witty said patent protection was important. But he stressed that patent protection doesn't confer the right to charge any price.
"I believe the price I charge must be a function of affordability of a country in which I operate. People often confuse between IP and affordability and I believe these are two different areas. It is entirely reasonable to have a global protection but we should have local pricing," Witty noted, highlighting the tiered-pricing approach adapted by GSK which means the price of a drug is calibrated according to the affordability or paying power of the patients.