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From words to actions: Novartis South Africa’s focus on human rights

To achieve sustainable, inclusive economic growth and social development, all spheres of South African society must work together to eliminate inequality,1,2  and for Novartis, our particular focus on equitable access to healthcare and healthcare services, says Derrick Ellan, Head of Public Affairs at pharmaceutical company Novartis South Africa.


As the country honours Human Rights Day1, Ellan urges all South Africans to reflect on the ways in which we can all contribute to addressing the needs of underserved and marginalized communities in order support and promote human rights.


“At Novartis, we are acutely aware of the many social and health injustices that many South Africans face on a daily basis, these are often linked to issues around lack of access to varying levels of services and products, including Pharmaceuticals,” he states. “As a global corporation, we have learned, adapted, and implemented strategies that are tailored to the needs of our local population, whilst working together with multiple stakeholders to address disease burden of varying forms.” 4


In South Africa, as is across the world, education should and must be prioritized to ensure empowerment of all citizens.


According to a report by Amnesty International, many children, especially those in rural communities, are lagging behind in their education as a result of inadequate infrastructure, a lack of resources, shortage and crowding of schools.5a As a result, more than three in ten children aged nine cannot read in many communities, rising to as many as nine in every ten children in certain provinces.5b


This has a profound impact on economic self- development and will perpetuate poverty and creates a feedback loop that impacts ongoing socio-economic development. Reading has no boundaries, opens the mind to the world and is fundamentally the cornerstone of education, which is why Novartis decided to make an investment into improving reading and access to educational resources.”


Changing lives, one book at a time

Through partnerships with initiatives such as ‘Rally-to-Read’ - whose aim is to improve literacy in rural communities - provision is being made for teachers and learners to access more books, additional resources, and literacy training.6


Rally-to-Read reaches out to remote rural communities to deliver books and educational resources to local schools and gives participants a unique chance to interact with teachers, learners, and community members.6


In February, associates from Novartis South Africa joined Rally-to-Read’s KwaZulu-Natal weekend rally, equipping 52 classroom libraries, and bringing smiles to the faces of 158 teachers and 4664 children across the Bulwer area.7,8a In collaboration with Rally-to-Read, Novartis has engaged with literacy programs, to help improve learners’ reading and writing skills.8b 


Additionally, Novartis has donated many thousands of reusable sanitary pads to girls in Gauteng schools since launching a campaign in 2019, done in collaboration with Clicks Retail Pharmacy Group.9 The lack of access to such fundamental needs has lead to girls being absent from school for up to 20% of the school year.9 It’s easy to see, how these economic and societal challenges will further impact access to education.


Bridging healthcare gaps


“Novartis’ medications reach more than 740 million people worldwide every year.10 However, not all individuals and households are able to access the level of healthcare services and medications needed. This is due to varying factors which could include affordability, access to healthcare and a lack of awareness. As such, our commitment to saving lives and improving treatment outcomes extends far beyond manufacturing lifesaving treatments,” adds Ellan.


As an example, in South Africa, tuberculosis (TB) is particularly widespread and is considered a serious public health risk.11,12 In fact, the illness carries one of the country's highest mortality rates.12 A Novartis initiative, in response to this need, was the creation of a mobile ‘lab-in-a-cab’ TB clinic, done in partnership with the University of Cape Town Lung Institute and the Department of Health, which toured the country’s outlying areas to provide screening services to enable earlier detection and treatment of TB.9,13Earlier this year Novartis proudly partnered with Unjani, an organisation providing quality yet affordable Primary healthcare services in underserviced areas in South Africa.14 After assessing Unjani’s priority needs for patients, Novartis donated 100 wheelchairs to support patients with mobility challenges, allowing patients easier access in and around these clinics.14

“At Novartis we understand the interconnectedness of access to education, healthcare, and necessities to improve lives, and attain a safer, healthier, and more equitable society. The delivery of quality healthcare and other basic services in South Africa will continue to depend on ongoing strategic public-private partnerships14, to which Novartis remains committed,” concludes Ellan.

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