February 27th, 2014
Breaking New Ground in the Caribbean: Improving Health in Haiti and Cuba
It never ceases to amaze me when I see how much can be and has been done to change health for the better, even in places where resources are few. Late last year, I had a truly unique opportunity to visit two countries only a few hundred miles from each other, yet worlds apart in their health systems and their ability to provide health care for their populations – Haiti and Cuba. The trip to Cuba was organized under a specific license from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) allowing for “People-to-People Exchanges.” Having grown up in the region, I was happy to see progress being made in key areas, particularly in the provision of care and treatment to people in need. But I was also struck by the gaps in access to care and essential medicines between the two countries.
During the course of two weeks, my colleagues and I traveled to these two countries to meet with partner organizations and to see the impact of the work of Johnson & Johnson and Janssen are doing at the local level. We visited clinics, met with healthcare officials, and spoke with patients and caregivers to cultivate a broader understanding of the major public health challenges these countries face and the ways that our company could contribute to extending access to medicines for patients in need.
We traveled extensively throughout key cities and into rural areas to fully explore the countries’ healthcare capacities and constraints. The contrasts were striking. We started our trip in Cuba, a country whose government has engaged in an extensive effort to establish a far reaching primary care physicians’ network, achieving one of the lowest patient-to-physician ratios in the world. These efforts have yielded a well-developed network of healthcare professionals, medical knowledge, and resources that have been leveraged to benefit not only Cuban citizens, but also patients in other resource-limited countries. While traveling to Haiti, however, it was clear that its health system is facing severe shortages in trained health workers and challenges in providing basic treatment and care.
As a developer of innovative medicines, visiting these countries was an important reminder of Janssen’s responsibility to ensure that our medicines can be made available sustainably for people in need. Earlier this year, we helped facilitate the Company’s first shipments of our HIV medicine PREZISTA® (darunavir) to Haiti and Cuba through non-governmental organizations. In Haiti, it was the first time the Company supplied an HIV medicine to the country. For Cuba, OFAC granted us a specific license to ship this HIV medicine – the first time the Company supplied any product to Cuba. Janssen is currently working on additional supply shipments to both countries for patients in need.
I took the time to reflect on this experience and the lessons we took from it. I was heartened by the unfailing dedication of the healthcare providers working to best serve unmet patient needs in both settings. And I was inspired to see what more companies like ours can do. I believe Janssen has an opportunity to help these countries take the necessary steps toward self-sufficiency by supplying life-saving medicines and providing critical training. For the past several years, our global HIV drug access program has been developing a robust medical education and training effort in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2014, we will look to translate this effort to address critical unmet needs in Haiti. We will establish two medical education opportunities for healthcare professionals, including those treating pediatric HIV, in collaboration with Partners in Health. This is an opportunity to bring in Cuban-trained healthcare providers based in Haiti to participate in a “Training-of-Trainers” pilot project to fill critical unmet health provider needs in the country.
The resilience of these communities makes me hopeful that creating better health outcomes on a region-wide scale is within our reach. This is why Janssen continues to expand our access to medicines footprint in the Caribbean and other resource-limited areas around the world. In taking these first steps, I am confident we are setting a solid course of action to create meaningful change for the health of these communities for the long-term.
Tomas Matthews, Regional Director for Global Access & Partnerships – Latin America, is responsible for the development and management of strategies that improve access in the region for an evolving portfolio of HIV, Vaccines, and TB compounds.