After the stupendous effort for COVID vaccines and treatments, it may seem like other diseases were being neglected. Nevertheless, the US Food and Drug Administration suddenly had a fire lit underneath it, and got cracking with accelerated drug approvals. Now, 2023 seems to have brought plenty of new drugs to bolster the physician’s armamentarium – some are the first-ever treatment for their indications. Hopefully, with FDA and European Medicines Agency (EMA) approvals, South African approvals should not be too far behind.
Since the pandemic, hotly anticipated drugs have made a big splash or sunk without a trace. In 2021, semaglutide was approved for weight management, unleashing a wave of people using (and some abusing) the GLP-1 agonist for weight loss. Adagrasib, which targets KRAS, previously thought undruggable, was a major advance for the treatment of non-small-cell lung cancer and was one of a few notable new non-COVID pharmaceuticals.
Last year, Aduhelm seemed like yet another false start in the long battle against Alzheimer’s disease. This year though, it looks like help finally arrived for fight against the dreaded neurodegenerative disease with not one but two breakthrough drugs, both antiamyloid antibodies.
Up first is lecanemab/Leqembi from Eisai/Biogen. It targets the buildup of amyloid proteins in the brain, which otherwise lead to the formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles of tau protein, the hallmarks of the disease.
The other candidate is donanemab, which did not secure FDA approval last year, after pharma company Eli Lilly witnessed the disaster that was Aduhelm. It did show a reduction in decline in one measure of Alzheimer’s disease but not another, so its effects are a mixed bag.
Like Aduhelm, donanemab and lecanemab both have a serious downside: brain swelling, which claimed the lives of at three donanemab trial participants.
Previously minimised by the pandemic’s social distancing and routine masking, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) experienced a resurgence in the wake of lifting these restrictions. RSV afflicts primarily those over 60 and young children. Among those 65 and older with RSV in the US, the Centers for Disease Control estimated 120 000 annual hospitalisations, with up to 10 000 of whom dying. Among children under 5, the figures are 58 000 annual hospitalisations and 100 to 300 deaths. Historically, RSV vaccine developments wound up being ineffective. Fortunately, this year saw the first approval for an RSV vaccine. A 120µg dose of their Arexvy vaccine produced statistically significant and clinically meaningful reductions in cases of lower respiratory tract disease caused by RSV in adults aged 60 years and older. Pfizer and Moderna are hot on HSK’s heels with their own vaccine applications.
Age-related macular degeneration
Apellis got an approval for pegcetacoplan this year, for geographic atrophy (GA) secondary to age-related macular degeneration, in its intravitreal injection. This is the first and so far only treatment for this indication. “The approval of SYFOVRE is the most important event in retinal ophthalmology in more than a decade,” said Eleonora Lad, MD, PhD, lead investigator for the phase 3 study. “Until now, there have been no approved therapies to offer people living with GA as their vision relentlessly declined. With SYFOVRE, we finally have a safe and effective GA treatment for this devastating disease, with increasing effects over time.”
Interestingly, Apellis also got an approval for paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria (PNH) with a patient-injectable version of pegcetacoplan. The disease results from the destruction of red blood cells by the immune system.
Abbvie and Genmab’s epcoritamab, for certain cases of large B-cell lymphoma (LBCL), got accelerated FDA and EMA approval earlier this year. The FDA has also granted accelerated approval to Roche’s glofitamab. The drugs bind to binding to CD20 on malignant B cells and CD3 on T cells to kill cancer cells, creating an effect like CAR-T cell therapy but without the complexity (and presumably, cheaper too).
Major depressive disorder, postpartum depression
Mental health is full of gaps needing to be filled by effective treatments. Not much has made been added for depression since selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) came onto the market in the 1990s. Zuranolone, from Biogen and Sage Therapeutics, is the first oral treatment for postpartum depression, which previously was treated only by IV injection in a healthcare facility. Unlike slow-acting SSRIs, this treatment, which targets the GABA-A receptor, is a short course.
Inflammatory bowel disease
There has been a steady drip of new biologic drugs for inflammatory diseases, such as bimekizumab (psoriasis and deucravacitinib which recently received FDA approval. Eli Lilly entered this crowded marketplace with ixekizumab. Now, after trouncing Novartis’ Cosentyx for psoriasis with its own mirikizumab, it pulled its application for that indication and switched it to ulcerative colitis – beating about a dozen competitors to be the first IL-23 inhibitor. It aims to get an approval for Crohn’s disease in 2025. Pfizer’s etrasimod for ulcerative colitis got approval in October 2023, and should receive EMA approval in 2024. Its phase 3 trial achieved 27% remission versus 7.4% for placebo.
Pulmonary arterial hypertension
Last is sotatercept, a new drug for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), which previously had no real treatment. Unlike the current therapy aimed at simply dilating blood vessels, sotaracept targets BMPR-II signalling, addressing the cause of PAH. It earned a priority preview by the FDA based on its phase 3 trial data, with possible approval by March 2024.
Blending 4IR technology and holistic approaches to health, the future of personalised and predictive ‘Wellcare’ comes to Cape Town and Johannesburg
InUversal Group, a health and biotech market disruptor in Africa and the Middle East that is transforming the way we think about healthcare, medicine and hospitals, is set to open next-gen medical and wellness hubs in Cape Town this December 2023 and a monumental R1 Billion Development in Sandton, Johannesburg, to follow in 2024. These visionary, state-of-the-art health and wellness facilities are designed to embrace the holistic nature of individuals’ wellbeing, emphasising the intricate interplay of biological, social and psychological facets.
Comprising a team of esteemed medical experts working collaboratively to transform disease treatment through innovative and holistic strategies, the InUversal Group is committed to alleviating South Africa and Africa’s healthcare challenges through the application of 4IR technology that is set to improve healthcare accessibility and standards for individuals across the continent. As an increasing number of international visitors travel the globe in search of medical treatments, the InUversal Group is committed to making South Africa’s major metropolises, including Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, the go-to destinations for personalised Wellcare – a term coined by the group that is anticipatory in nature and requires a holistic approach to health.
Wellcare harnesses proven strategies to attain an optimal and healthy balance between individuals’ health, time, and finances, ensuring that they can lead healthier, happier and more fulfilling lives. This ambitious endeavour aligns with South Africa’s reputation as a hub for medical tourism, offering world-class medical services, competitive pricing, and a rich cultural and immersive experience.
The Institute of Universal Wellcare (InUWell) will be based in the heart of Cape Town at the prestigious V&A Waterfront Mall and is the first of its kind – a digitally-immersed, multidisciplinary institute of holistic health and wellbeing in a warm and welcoming retail environment. InUWell’s versatile multifunctional design, and forward-thinking commitment to radical sustainability, offers an unparalleled experience that is a seamless blend of physical and digital realms. The Institute is set over 2000 square metres and is considered to be the heart of “Wellcare.”
This festive season, InUWell is opening its doors to immersive health and wellness experiences where individuals are invited to learn more about health and well-being, while exploring and having fun in an engaging, euphoric, multi-sensory environment as they connect and share memorable moments with friends and family.
InUWell provides a diverse range of services including DNA genetic testing, comprehensive health screenings and diagnostics, specialised treatments and therapies, Wellcare lifestyle products and services, active health studios, multisensory immersive experiences and a digital health bank with evidence-based healthcare insights.
“The InUversal Group is an ecosystem shifting and stretching boundaries, creating connections, taking complex intricate life decisions and making them SIMPLE,” says Dr Kamlen Pillay, Founder and CEO of the InUversal Group and Plastic Surgeon. “InUWell, under the InUversal Group, is a single destination for all your health and wellness needs. It is the perfect place to learn about your body and how to take care of it, to access the latest technology and treatments and therapies, and to connect with other people who are on the same journey,” says Dr Pillay.
“The InUversal Group’s WellCare Programmes empower individuals of all generations to take precise, proactive, and preventative measures, not only to extend the quantity of years in our lives but also to infuse more vitality and quality into those years,” says Dr Pillay.
The Group is launching several innovative health technology products which will enter the market early next year, including the Johannesburg facility called SIM Sandton, that is unique in Africa and will host a 5* hotel, InUWell Precinct, Step-Down Facility as well as a multi-disciplinary Surgical Theatre Complex with more than 20 of Johannesburg’s top specialists.
Working with esteemed medical specialists, leading MedTech equipment and companies, and lifestyle and wellness retail brand partners, the InUversal Group invites potential collaborators to join the vanguard of companies and brands helping to shape the future of health and Wellcare practices in Africa and globally, with the shared mission of enhancing the well-being of countless individuals.
“Imagine a world where every man, woman and child has the agency over three valuable assets – their health, time and money. A world where every person has the dignity of choice where they live, work and play. A world where hospitals are not places we go to when we are sick but rather to stay healthy. Imagine a world where hospitals are for profits but not for profiteering. A world where each day, each and every one of us, uses our energy collectively to leave the world in a slightly better place than we found it, the day before,” concludes Dr Pillay.
To get involved or find out more information, visit: inuwell.global or contact email@example.com to book an appointment. InUWell Cape Town will officially be opening its doors on 19 December 2023.
Part of the reason cancer is such a devastatingly costly disease to treat is because cancer drugs are often require very expensive, specialised ingredients to produce. But thanks to pathbreaking research by UCLA chemists, led by organic chemistry professor Ohyun Kwon, the price of drug treatments for cancer and other serious illnesses may soon plummet.
For example, one chemical used in making some anti-cancer drugs costs US$3200 per gram – 50 times more than a gram of gold. The UCLA researchers devised an inexpensive way to produce this drug molecule from a chemical costing just US$3 per gram. They were also able to apply the process to produce many other chemicals used in medicine and agriculture for a fraction of the usual cost.
Their breakthrough, published in the journal Science, involves a process known as “aminodealkenylation.” Using oxygen as a reagent and copper as a catalyst to break the carbon-carbon bonds of many different organic molecules, the researchers replaced these bonds with carbon-nitrogen bonds, converting the molecules into derivatives of ammonia called amines.
Amines interact strongly with molecules in living plants and animals, so they are widely used in pharmaceuticals, as well as in agricultural chemicals. Familiar amines include nicotine, cocaine, morphine and amphetamine, and neurotransmitters like dopamine. Fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides also contain amines.
Industrial production of amines is therefore of great interest, but the raw materials and reagents are often expensive, and the processes can require many complicated steps to complete. Using fewer steps and no expensive ingredients, the process developed at UCLA can produce valuable chemicals at a much lower cost than current methods.
“This has never been done before,” Kwon said. “Traditional metal catalysis uses expensive metals such as platinum, silver, gold and palladium, and other precious metals such as rhodium, ruthenium and iridium. But we are using oxygen and copper, one of the world’s most abundant base metals.”
The new method uses ozone to break the carbon-carbon bond in alkenes (a form of hydrocarbon with double carbon-carbon bonds) and a copper catalyst to couple the broken bond with nitrogen, turning the molecule into an amine. In one example, the researchers produced a c-Jun N-terminal kinase inhibitor – an anti-cancer drug – in just three chemical steps, instead of the 12 or 13 steps previously needed. The cost per gram can thus be reduced from thousands of dollars to just a few dollars.
In another example, the protocol took just one step to convert adenosine – a neurotransmitter and DNA building block that costs less than 10 US cents per gram – into the amine N6-methyladenosine. The amine plays crucial roles in controlling gene expression in cellular, developmental and disease processes, and its production cost has previously been US$103 per gram.
Kwon’s research group was able to modify hormones, pharmaceutical reagents, peptides and nucleosides into other useful amines, showing the new method’s potential to become a standard production technique in drug manufacturing and many other industries.
For the year ended 30 September 2023, the Netcare Group’s profit after tax and exceptional items increased by 27.2% to R1 336 million (FY 2022: R1 050 million) and adjusted HEPS increased by 27.0% to 105.7 cents (FY 2022: 83.2 cents). A sustained improvement in activity, off a largely organic base, supported revenue growth of 9.5%. Coupled with tight cost control notwithstanding the high inflationary environment, this has resulted in excellent operating leverage, reflected in the 23.9% growth in operating profit.
Group chief executive officer, Dr Richard Friedland commented, “We are encouraged by the ongoing normalisation and resilient demand for private healthcare services, allowing the Group to continue on the solid trajectory reported during the first half of this past financial year.”
Total paid patient days (PPDs), inclusive of acute and mental health, increased by 6.7% with improved occupancies of 64.4% for FY 2023 (FY 2022: 60.1%).
Dr Friedland continued, “It is also very pleasing that we have made excellent progress in implementing our key strategic projects. The CareOn digitisation project is nearing completion and has been successfully rolled out at 38 acute hospitals to date, covering 90% of beds. The project is delivering tangible benefits for patients across the Netcare ecosystem, and the gross financial benefits of R104 million in FY 2023 have exceeded expectations.”
Similarly, Netcare’s environmental sustainability strategy continued to deliver financial savings and plays a pivotal role in reducing exposure to the impacts of the instability of the national electricity grid. In line with the 2030 sustainability strategy, the Group concluded an agreement for a renewable energy (RE) supply arrangement with NOA Group Trading, a renewable energy trader. This agreement will increase the proportion of Netcare’s total energy consumption derived from RE sources to c26% and represents an important step towards Netcare’s goal of achieving 100% reliance on RE sources by 2030. Netcare is currently exploring further grid-wheeling opportunities that will potentially increase RE-derived energy to c.40%.
In order to address the growing demand for mental healthcare services in South Africa, Netcare successfully commissioned Netcare Akeso Gqeberha (72 beds) in May 2023. Sales of NetcarePlus products to the retail and corporate segments continue to gain traction, contributing to the Netcare ecosystem through increased access to private healthcare beyond traditional medical schemes and the increased use of its services. Netcare Diagnostics progressed with the rollout of validated and quality assured point of care devices across Netcare’s intensive and high care units, theatres and emergency departments as well as Medicross medical and dental centres.
Dr Friedland said, “We remain committed to our Consistency of Care strategy, broadening the measurement of clinical outcomes and patient experience to ensure we deliver on our core purpose of providing the best and safest care to our patients.”
Cash generated from operations was strong, increasing to R4 135 million (FY 2022: R3 950 million), and the cash conversion ratio amounted to 100.5% (FY 2022: 113.0%). In line with the capital allocation strategy of returning excess cash to shareholders, the Group executed a share buyback programme that, collectively, entailed the repurchase of 33.7 million shares at a cost of R444 million.
Similarly, in line with the dividend policy, which aims to provide shareholders with a sustainable dividend of 50% – 70% of earnings, the Board declared a final dividend of 35.0 cents per share. This, together with an interim dividend of 30.0 cents per share represents 61.5 % of adjusted HEPS and an increase of 30.0% over FY 2022.
Netcare is encouraged by the ongoing improvement in the Group’s financial performance as demand continues to normalise from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The higher activity levels, coupled with ongoing efficiencies, resulted in strong operating leverage and an improvement in Group EBITDA margins of 120 basis points to 17.4%, from 16.2% in FY 2022.
Total capex, including strategic projects, amounted to R1.5 billion for the year, of which R136 million related to expansionary projects, including the completion of construction of the new Netcare Akeso Gqeberha facility and R82 million invested in the hospital digitisation project.
The Group incurred operational costs relating to strategic projects of R258 million (FY 2022: R249 million).
Netcare experienced an average of Stage 3.6 loadshedding across its facilities during the year, resulting in a sharp increase in generator diesel costs to R124 million from R37 million in FY 2022.
At 30 September 2023, the Group‘s cash resources and available undrawn committed facilities amounted to R3.7 billion.
Hospital and emergency services
The segment delivered a steady performance for FY 2023, driven by continued recovery in demand and further normalisation of the post COVID-19 operating environment.
Revenue for the segment increased by 9.6% to R23 050 million (FY 2022: R21 024 million) and total patient days increased by 6.7% to 2 447 494 days in FY 2023 (FY 2022: 2 293 344 days). The steady increase in activity contributed to higher occupancy levels with total occupancy of 64.4% (FY 2022: 60.1%).
Notwithstanding the changes in various networks that were effective from January 2023, a milder flu season and extended vacations by specialists, acute hospital patient days increased by a solid 6.1% against FY 2022, equating to 95.1% of FY 2019 with ICU and high care PPDs being 10.1% higher than pre-pandemic levels.
In line with the trend reported in H1 2023, year-to-date growth in medical PPDs of 8.5% continued to outpace surgical PPD growth of 3.9%. Medical PPDs have recovered to 99.0% of 2019 levels, while surgical PPDs continue to be impacted by sector trends, inter alia, declining maternity cases, as well as an outmigration of lower margin day cases, and have recovered to 91.7% of pre-pandemic levels. Total surgical cases comprised 51.5% of patient days (FY 2022: 52.6%; pre-pandemic levels: 53.4%) and medical cases 48.5% (FY 2022: 47.4%; pre-pandemic levels: 46.6%). Surgical cases continue to contribute more than 70% of revenue.
Demand for mental healthcare remains strong with mental health patient days increasing by 12.7% compared to FY 2022. The newly opened Netcare Akeso Gqeberha facility contributed 2.3% of this growth. Activity has surpassed pre-pandemic levels by 5.4% (same store) and 11.6% inclusive of the 36-bed Netcare Akeso Richards Bay facility (commissioned in May 2022) and the 72-bed Netcare Akeso Gqeberha facility (commissioned in May 2023).
The strong increase in mental healthcare activity has resulted in occupancies improving to 72.7% (73.5% excluding Netcare Akeso Gqeberha) in FY 2023 from 68.1% in FY 2022 (FY 2019: 71.6%).
In 2023, Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital received Level 1 trauma accreditation from the Trauma Society of South Africa, which is aligned to the American Trauma Society accreditation principles. There are only four hospitals in South Africa that have achieved this status, all of which are in the Netcare Group.
Netcare’s geographic footprint, electronic medical records (EMR) offering, and highly accredited facilities, allow the Group to continue attracting specialists and a net 124 doctors were granted admission rights at acute and mental healthcare facilities during FY 2023.
Total GP and dental visits decreased by 3.1% in FY 2023 compared to FY 2022. The decline in visits is predominantly attributable to the higher base in FY 2022, which was boosted by increased COVID-19 GP visits during the Omicron-driven fourth wave. Revenue increased by 4.6% to R663 million. EBITDA margins were adversely impacted by diesel fuel costs.
Netcare has made excellent progress in the implementation of its key strategic projects and is now well placed to benefit from the rapidly changing dynamics driving demand in the healthcare sector.
Digitisation: Significant progress has been made in the implementation of the CareOn hospital EMR offering, which is a major focus of the digitisation strategy. This new way of care has been successfully implemented at 38 of the 45 Netcare hospitals to date, comprising 8 645 beds (90% of registered beds). In addition, over 28 000 healthcare professionals, comprising nurses, doctors, allied health professionals and pharmacists are actively using the system. Rollout to the final seven hospitals (943 beds) will be completed by April 2024. Dr Friedland said, “We remain confident that this investment will create a sustainable competitive advantage for the Group and will prove pivotal in laying the foundations in achieving our strategy of person centred health and care that is digitally enabled and data driven.” Digitisation has now been completed across all ancillary businesses in the Netcare ecosystem spanning across Netcare Akeso, Netcare Medicross, Netcare 911, National Renal Care and Netcare Cancer Care radiotherapy.
Netcare App: Netcare successfully launched its App in July 2023, which represents the next phase of the strategy to enable digital engagement with patients and clients. There has been a robust take-up of this App, which allows online pre-admissions, doctor appointments, the ability for Netcare 911 to geolocate someone in an emergency, access to a Summary of Care, and the ability to purchase NetcarePlus policies, with further services to be added in future.
Promoting access to healthcare: NetcarePlus has a portfolio of innovative healthcare products and funding solutions that promote access to affordable, quality healthcare in South Africa. In FY 2023, Netcare launched additional pre-paid procedures, completed enhancements to NetcarePlus GapCare and NetcarePlus Accident Cover, and also launched a new primary care offering.
Netcare Diagnostics: Netcare Diagnostics, which supports a Black female owned pathology service provider, Dr Esihle Nomlomo Inc., is gaining traction and made a positive contribution to EBITDA. The first stage rollout of 122 blood gas analysers at Netcare’s intensive care and high care units has been completed, with a further 70 point of care devices commissioned at ten emergency departments. Additionally, the service has been rolled out at ten Medicross facilities to date and will be extended to further sites in FY 2024.
Environmental sustainability: The first phase of the Group’s environmental sustainability strategy commenced in 2013. Since then, energy intensity per bed has reduced by 39%, exceeding the initial 10-year target. Similarly, the Group has exceeded its 2023 financial targets, achieving cumulative operational savings and benefits of more than R1.5 billion to date, yielding an IRR of 40%. In FY 2021, Netcare embarked on the second phase of its strategy, with a primary target of reducing Scope 2 emissions to zero by 2030 and Scope 1 and 3 emissions by a combined 84%. The Group’s 2030 strategy aims to achieve 100% utilisation from renewable sources, with zero waste to landfill and an additional 20% reduction of impact on water sources.
Outlook and guidance
Although the macro environment remains impacted by national power grid load shedding, global supply chain limitations, constrained consumers, and high levels of unemployment, Netcare has a number of measures in place to mitigate these challenges and remains focused on optimising the progress made in FY 2023. Furthermore, the environmental sustainability projects will continue to mitigate the significant escalation in costs associated with increased reliance on diesel powered generators resulting from the instability of the national electricity grid.
Although there has been limited growth in medical scheme membership, the pool of covered lives remains resilient and underscores the sustainable demand for quality private healthcare, which is exacerbated by the growing disease burden and ageing insured population.
For FY 2024, the Group expects revenue growth of between 7.5% and 9.5%. Total patient days are expected to grow by between 2.5% and 3.5% off a largely normalised base. The increased activity will drive further EBITDA margin expansion, improved earnings and a higher ROIC.
Netcare will continue to maintain an optimal capital structure, and the strength of the statement of financial position and the ongoing improvement in operational performance in the underlying businesses will continue to support dividend payments in line with the Group’s dividend policy. Netcare will also continue to return excess cash to shareholders by way of share buybacks or special dividends.
Dr Friedland concluded, “We are confident that our strategy remains relevant, and we are firmly committed to realising growth opportunities, improving returns and the successful execution and completion of our key strategic projects. Notwithstanding the fluid economic environment, we expect ongoing improvements in the operational and financial performance of the business in FY 2024 and beyond.”
Redispensing cancer drugs reduces both medical costs and environmental impact, according to research from Radboudumc pharmacy published in JAMA Oncology. The annual savings could amount to tens of millions.
Cancer drugs as pills are not always used up by patients. The drugs are mostly expensive and environmentally damaging, both in production and (waste) disposal. In her PhD research, Lisa-Marie Smale of Radboudumc investigated whether these unused drugs can be collected and reissued. Does such an approach ultimately lead to lower environmental impact and costs?
When redispensing medications, the quality must be guaranteed. Therefore, in this study the medications were packaged separately and fitted with a sensor, which registers whether returned medications were kept within the required temperature. Smale: “If packaging, temperature and expiration date are in order, the returned medications can be redispensed. For two years we investigated this procedure in cooperation with the pharmacies of four Dutch hospitals; Radboudumc, UMC Utrecht, Jeroen Bosch hospital and St Antonius hospital. Over a thousand patients who were taking oral cancer medications at home participated in the study during that period.”
Saving tens of millions
The results look promising. The investment in the method, such as packaging with a temperature sensor, amounts up to 37 euros per patient per year. This is offset by savings of 613 euros. Annually, this results in a net saving per patient of 576 euros. Smale: “In the Netherlands, we can save between 20 and 50 million euros annually with this redispensing of medication. Meanwhile, we have further optimised the process, making a net saving of 655 euros per patient possible. In the Netherlands, we have relatively low drug prices. If you look at the US, where the price of new drugs is over 300 percent higher, in principle much more money can be saved there.”
Of all wasted medicine packaging, two-thirds could be reissued. Project leader Charlotte Bekker of Radboudumc says, “Based on the results, the study will be expanded to 14 hospitals. Again, we are looking at cancer pills. Reissue is only allowed in the context of a scientific study because of European rules. We hope that the approach can eventually be used nationwide, as well as for other drugs.”
Sustainability and social impact also benefit
“This approach is cost-effective for expensive drugs,” Smale says, “but ultimately there are other factors you want to consider, such as sustainability or social impact. Think of the environmental impact you can reduce by not destroying drugs but redispensing them; this can also be beneficial for drugs that are in short supply.”
To the researcher’s knowledge, this study the first to examine drug redispensing with guaranteed quality. The topic is attracting strong interest, not only in the medical community but also beyond. Several parties are committed to make further expansion possible. In addition to the participating hospitals, the Dutch Association of Hospital Pharmacists (NVZA) is also closely involved. And it is part of the Green Deal objectives to make healthcare more sustainable. Smale: “We are happy to work with all parties to address and reduce the cost and environmental impact of wasted medicines.”
Medshield Medical Scheme, a prominent medical aid scheme, and Clicks, a leading retail pharmacy chain and Designated Service Provider on the Medshield Pharmacy and SmartCare Networks, are pleased to announce the expansion and enhancement of their partnership. This partnership aims to empower members with even greater access to quality care through Medshield’s SmartCare benefit, allowing access to a network of Clicks clinics for professional nurse and nurse-led virtual Family Practitioner (GP) consultations. This further cements their commitment to delivering healthcare excellence through technology.
Expanding the SmartCare Network
Medshield and Clicks have partnered to add 123 Clicks clinics to the existing 255 clinics in the SmartCare Network. This expansion guarantees that Medshield members can conveniently and efficiently access their SmartCare benefits at these selected Clicks clinics.
SmartCare: The Gateway to Modern Healthcare
Medshield’s flagship member benefit, SmartCare, is leading the charge in digital innovation in healthcare. By utilising the power of technology, SmartCare provides access to pharmacy clinics that offer a one-stop-shop for members to access professional nurse consultations, health risk assessments, sick notes, specialist referrals, medication and nurse-led virtual access to Family Practitioners (GP) when required. This benefit is redefining the way healthcare services are accessed and delivered, making it more convenient and efficient for both healthcare providers and members.
Medshield members have access to an unprecedented level of convenience through Clicks clinics, which are powered by the Udok telemedicine solution. These consultations cover prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, focusing on connecting patients, nurses, doctors, and medication for fast and convenient care.
Kevin Aron, Principal Officer at Medshield, explains, “When we introduced SmartCare, we aimed to offer a cutting-edge solution that would add more value for our members. Medshield was the pioneer medical scheme in South Africa to integrate this service as a new benefit for all members, without additional costs.”
The Medshield SmartCare Benefit
SmartCare offers a multitude of benefits to Medshield members, providing them with a holistic approach to healthcare:
Enhanced Access to Care: SmartCare provides Medshield members with easy access to quality care led by professional, licensed nurses at pharmacy clinics. The nurse will facilitate a virtual Family Practitioner (GP) consultation depending on the patient’s ailment. Once the patient has been diagnosed and treatment prescribed, the relevant medication is easily obtained from the pharmacy.
Stretch day-to-day medical aid benefits: Healthcare services offered by SmartCare pharmacy clinics such as Clicks are cost-effective, and enable members to receive quality care and their medication as a complete solution. Utilising the SmartCare benefits allows the member to receive quality care whilst minimising the use of their day-to-day benefit.
Improved Health Outcomes: SmartCare services implemented by pharmacy providers allow members to manage and receive preventative care through wellness checks and health risk assessments, providing access to early intervention services and ultimately leading to better health outcomes.
The Vision of Collaboration
“We are excited to announce our enhanced partnership with Clicks, a valued partner on the Medshield DSP Network. With the addition of 123 Clicks clinics to the SmartCare Network, we are reinforcing our commitment to provide Medshield members with access to high-quality healthcare services,” said Kevin Aron, Principal Officer at Medshield. “SmartCare is revolutionising healthcare delivery, and we are proud to offer this innovative solution to our members.”
The Medshield SmartCare way of adding value:
A Medshield member can visit any Clicks clinic on the SmartCare network for primary healthcare needs such as acute conditions, wellness checks, health risk assessments, vaccinations, or chronic medication prescriptions as prescribed by a Family practitioner (GP).
A registered nurse performs a thorough medical history and examination of the patient.
The nurse can advise the patient on over-the-counter medication available at the pharmacy.
A virtual consultation with a family practitioner is requested by the nurse through Clicks clinic’s Udok technology when further treatment is necessary. The doctor then completes the consultation with the assistance of the nurse.
The nurse can print the doctor’s written documentation, and the patient can fill their prescription at the pharmacy immediately.
Accessible Medications and Comprehensive Care
In addition to SmartCare consultations, Clicks pharmacies are available on all Medshield plans, making access to prescription medication convenient for members.
Rachel Wrigglesworth, Clicks’ Chief Healthcare Officer stated, “This partnership between Clicks and Medshield focuses on the wellbeing of our customers, which is our top priority. The collaboration has expanded to include Clicks clinics powered by Udok, a solution that offers real-time access to registered family practitioners through our Nurse-led consultations on the SmartCare benefit, funded by Medshield Medical Scheme. As a leader in the healthcare market, this partnership perfectly aligns with our commitment to increasing access to affordable primary healthcare for all South Africans. We are committed to the continued success of this collaboration.”
Embracing the Future of Healthcare
As the healthcare industry continues to evolve in the digital age, SmartCare stands as a shining example of how technology and innovation come together to provide added convenience and efficiency in healthcare. It empowers nurses to provide additional care for Medshield members through accessible technology. Unless it is a trauma situation, members can visit a Clicks clinic on the SmartCare network for acute and chronic conditions. By embracing the future of healthcare through the SmartCare benefit, Medshield members can expect to experience efficient and reliable medical consultations to enhance their wellbeing.
“Medshield is continuing to reinvent healthcare the smart way. The SmartCare benefit offers our members a new level of convenience, connecting members with nurses, doctors and medicine like never before,” concluded Aron.
A Strengthened Partnership
Expanding the Medshield and Clicks partnership demonstrates a solid commitment to providing excellent healthcare services and a shared vision of creating a more accessible and convenient healthcare experience for Medshield members. It is a testament to the excellent collaboration between Medshield and Clicks, ensuring that quality care is always easily accessible.
The Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS) will, on November 2nd, 2023, host its 14th annual GEMS Symposium under the theme: “Advancing Health Equity by Addressing the Social Determinants of Health”. Experts, thought leaders and specialists in healthcare will engage in discussions towards a better understanding of the societal determinants of health in South Africa.
For this hybrid event, delegates will attend both in person at Sandton and virtually.
Dr Moloabi states that the “Symposium is an important event on the GEMS calendar, providing a platform for academic, clinical, government and business minds to discuss what social issues are at play in determining the nation’s health status and how to improvements in health equity can be realized”. Moreover, he also highlights the need to remove practical obstacles that make us an unequal society if we are to achieve collaborative and cohesive solutions to our healthcare challenges.”
Speakers will include:
Dr Ingrid Pooe – Chief Operations Officer, Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS),
Dr Sebayitseng Millicent Hlatshwayo – Chairperson, Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS),
Dr Chana Pilane-Majake – Deputy Minister of Public Service and Administration (DPSA),
Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana – Professor of Political Science, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Johannesburg,
Dr Selaelo Mametja – Chief Research Officer, Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS),
Dr Vuyo Gqola – Chief Healthcare Officer, Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS),
Mr Louis Botha – Chief Executive Officer, Health Quality Assessment (HQA),
Ms Yoliswa Makhasi – Director General, Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA),
Mr Frikkie de Bruin- General Secretary, Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council (PSCBC),
Dr Pali Lehohla – Director of Economic Modelling Academy (EMA),
GEMS Principal Officer Dr Stanley Moloabi.
Dr Pilane-Majake, the Deputy Minister for the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) will deliver the keynote address, elucidating, amongst other insights, the crucial relationship between the DPSA as employer and GEMS as an implementor of a mandate to ensure access to health and wellness by government employees and thus contributing towards the attainment of the ideals of Universal Healthcare Coverage.
Media personality Ms. Faith Mangope will facilitate conversations as the panel covers key discussion points, including:
Achieving the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030.
Beyond Healthcare: Addressing health equity and social determinants of health.
Policy Interventions for Addressing Social Determinants of Health: Lessons and best practices.
Value-Based Care and Social Determinants of Health: Integrating social context into healthcare delivery.
Advancing health equity by addressing social determinants of health; and
Exploring the interplay between healthcare quality and social determinants.
At GEMS, we are dedicated to fulfilling our responsibilities towards our members and the people of South Africa. The Symposium is a testament to our commitment to Universal Healthcare Coverage, and we are eagerly anticipating a productive outcome that will be memorable and provide an insightful experience for all involved, Dr. Moloabi” concludes.
The South African government and pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) have agreed to a lower price for bedaquiline, a medicine used to treat drug-resistant tuberculosis (DR-TB) in South Africa.
This comes off the back of mounting pressure from activists and amid an ongoing investigation by the Competition Commission, looking into J&J’s pricing of the drug.
An estimated 14 000 people in South Africa fell ill with DR-TB in 2019. Bedaquiline is one of the main drugs used to treat DR-TB. Before bedaquiline became available, treatment for DR-TB would consist of up to two years of injections with serious side effects. The bedaquiline-containing regimen has no injectables, far fewer side effects and is typically six months.
Bedaquiline has been provided by the South African government since 2018.
In July, J&J agreed to sell bedaquiline to lower and middle-income countries through the Stop TB Partnership’s Global Drug Facility for $130 (R2470) per six-month regime, but South Africa does not make use of this facility due to national procurement policies.
Instead, about the same time that J&J made this announcement, the National Health Department agreed to pay J&J R5500 for the drug.
The Competition Commission announced in September that it will be investigating Johnson & Johnson’s pricing of the drug. The commission assisted the Department of Health in renegotiating the price, says department spokesperson Foster Mohale.
This week the department sent out a circular indicating that it will be paying R3,148 for bedaquiline.
Bedaquiline is prescribed to 7000 to 8000 people a year, Mohale told GroundUp. Mohale says the new price amounts to a 40% saving on bedaquiline for the next two years.
Candice Sehoma, Access Campaign Advocacy Advisor for Medicines Sans Frontiere (MSF), told GroundUp that the “momentous” cost saving is a “big achievement”. Sehoma says it is a sign that the global campaign to ensure accessible and affordable treatment for TB is yielding results.
MSF has estimated that bedaquiline could be manufactured and sold for profit for as little as $102 (R1940).
Fatima Hassan, director of the Health Justice Initiative, says that while the price drop is a victory, it is important to ensure that this does not happen again.
“The significant price reduction emphasises why price scrutiny is significant,” Hassan told GroundUp.
J&J’s patent for bedaquiline expired in July 2023, but J&J had already applied for a new patent for a slightly different version of bedaquiline, which was granted. This meant their patent protection continued in South Africa after the original patent expired.
This amounts to “evergreening”, says Hassan. Evergreening, as explained in this article in The Conversation, “is achieved by seeking extra patents on variations of the original drug – new forms of release, new dosages, new combinations or variations, or new forms”.
The Competition Commission will be looking into J&J’s alleged “evergreening” as part of its investigation.
After making its agreement with the Global Drug Facility, J&J has announced it will not be enforcing the new patent – a move that will allow generic versions of the product to enter the market and further lower the price.
GroundUp sent questions to J&J but received no response.
Reaching the masses with quality healthcare services
By Sandra Sampson, Director at Allmed Healthcare Professionals
With its two-tiered, highly unequal healthcare system, only 14.86% of South Africa’s population can currently afford private healthcare, and rising costs are making it difficult for many to keep paying their monthly medical aid premiums. There are plans to implement National Health Insurance (NHI) to fund healthcare in the public and private sectors, although this process which began in August 2011 has been slow, and the NHI Bill is still under consideration in the National Assembly.
Despite concerns about the state’s ability to implement the NHI effectively and competently, delivering quality medical care to the population must continue to be a priority for every healthcare provider. This is where a specialist Temporary Employment Services (TES) provider can assist – delivering a flexible, competent, quality workforce on demand for institutions in both the public and private sectors.
Increasing access to quality healthcare
The public healthcare sector is primarily intended to serve those who are unable to access private medical aid and is currently accessible to all, regardless of immigration status or nationality. Significant funding is a massive drawcard for specialists in the private sector, which has resulted in a widening gap between public and private healthcare facilities in much of the country. The impending NHI is intended to address this gap and enable greater access to specialist care and more free services for all, while improving the quality of public healthcare by establishing a national fund that will allow for the purchasing of healthcare services on behalf of users. Estimates for funding this national health initiative range from R165bn to R450bn, and the government has been given the go-ahead by the Gauteng High Court to continue its recruitment drive before the bill has even passed.
Access starts with affordability
In line with this move, affordable healthcare insurance is on the rise. This trend starts with partnerships between healthcare and financial services providers, and has already been seen in the likes of Dischem, Clicks and Tyme Bank’s TymeHealth, all offering medical insurance, enabling access to high-quality healthcare specialists to a market that was previously woefully under-serviced. As the demand for quality healthcare increases, there will be a proportionate increase in the need for healthcare professionals.
Practical resourcing alternatives
It is not economically or practically feasible for healthcare institutions (whether in the private or public sector) to hire more medical professionals permanently, which means they will have to explore other resourcing options. This is becoming increasingly difficult in South Africa, as many skilled medical staff are seeking work elsewhere as a result of poor working conditions created by loadshedding, corruption, and incompetent administration. Although the Department of Home Affairs has added new skills to our country’s critical skills list (many of which include medical practitioners and individual specialisations) the healthcare industry is still severely understaffed. Hospital groups are only growing more frustrated with the government’s inability to address the decreasing number of medical practitioners, particularly nurses. The Hospital Association of South Africa (HASA) has reported that nurses in the country are reaching retirement age without the necessary inflow of younger employees. In 2020, there were more than 21,000 nurses in training, but South Africa still needs as many as 26,000 additional nurses to meet the growing demand.
Meeting the demand flexibly
TES providers in the healthcare sector have the potential to meet the demand of healthcare institutions for nurses and specialists, without these institutions having to commit to the responsibilities and costs associated with full-time employment. TES providers are on hand to supply the vetted and highly-skilled workers so desperately needed. Every healthcare institution can be supplied with the resources necessary on a shift-by-shift basis. So, if, for example, there is a deficit of five ICU nurses at a certain hospital, a TES provider can meet this with very short notice. If, on the other hand, patients are discharged or rerouted, these additional nurses can be cancelled at short notice, and the TES provider picks up the hospital’s slack and answers it with flexible resources on demand. Additionally, when it comes to meeting the fluctuating demand for speciality staff, a TES partner will become indispensable.
Equitability and affordability depend on agility
Ultimately, regardless of when the NHI comes to fruition, healthcare institutions should begin partnering with a TES provider if they haven’t already. Along with providing medical professionals on demand, this comes with cost-saving benefits for the hospital or clinic. Not having to employ full-time staff to meet fluctuating needs is a cost-saving exercise. Not only from a wage standpoint but also from an HR perspective in terms of payroll, industrial relations and skills development. The TES partner is responsible for all aspects of the employment relationship, while the healthcare institution gains access to qualified healthcare professionals as needed, at a fixed rate on flexible terms. This means that as soon as hospitals decide to invest in making their wards and spaces bigger and more efficient, they will have access to the medical resources necessary to staff them in a manner that enables equitable access to quality healthcare.
In a nation where healthcare has been marred by disjointed systems and fragmented care, South Africa’s healthcare organisations are making strides to change this narrative.
South Africa’s health journey has faced challenges with siloed information, often paper-based systems, and a lack of information flow between health professionals, funders and health facilities. These barriers have significantly impacted the cost, quality, and access to healthcare for patients. In response, the Competition Commission’s Health Market Inquiry (HMI) panel spotlighted the urgent need for solutions that bolster transparency, coordination, and innovation.
South Africa’s first industry-wide health information exchange, CareConnect HIE, is a game-changing initiative and the brainchild of major hospital groups, including Life Healthcare, Mediclinic, and Netcare, coupled with leading medical scheme administrators like Discovery Health, Medscheme, and Momentum Health. Their shared vision? An interoperable health system that breaks historic barriers, promoting enhanced patient care, quality, and efficiency. This transformative approach to healthcare was showcased in action at an event in Sandton today, providing attendees a firsthand look at the potential of HIE in South Africa.
Since its launch in August 2022, CareConnect HIE has rapidly advanced, with over 5.2 million consented lives now integrated into the system. However, the true value – from population health benefits to progressive funding and health delivery models – exponentially increases as the amount of data on the exchange grows. Therefore, the aim of the HIE is to be the hub of exchange and the single integration point for ALL health data – from both the public sector and the private sector. Bearing testament to this, representatives from the South African Private Practitioners Forum, the Radiological Society of SA, Mediclinic, Discovery Health, Altron and Momentum Health will share their insights on how HIE will be used in their organisations. In addition, representatives from the Western Cape Department of Health will talk to the public-private collaboration with CareConnect.
CareConnect has adopted a set of international standards (FHIR and HL7) to transfer and share data between various healthcare systems regardless of how it is stored in those systems. These standards underpin interoperability because all participants are ‘speaking the same language’. An interoperable health system will be critical in achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) which will require the ability for patients to move seamlessly between the public and private health sectors, facilities, clinicians or other service providers, depending on the expertise and care they require. To this end, there is engagement with the National Department of Health, who were represented at the event.
Central to the CareConnect HIE is a Unified Care Record (UCR), an electronic medical record that holds a patient’s entire medical journey. This constantly updated and ever-evolving record gives clinicians on-demand access to consolidated patient data, promoting swift, well-informed treatment decisions when and where they are needed.
Privacy and security of data is critical to the success of HIE. The CareConnect HIE conforms to both local and international data privacy regulations to ensure that sensitive health information remains protected at all times and will only be accessible to healthcare providers when medically necessary and only with the patient’s consent. User-based access permissions are automatically regulated by the HIE, further safeguarding sensitive patient information.
Sharing health data saves lives. The more data the industry shares, the more value and benefit to the patient that will be extracted from the HIE.
Dr Rolan Christian, CEO of CareConnect HIE
CareConnect’s innovative new use cases, ranging from tracking acute and chronic patient conditions, listing allergies and adverse reactions, to standardising doctor clinical (discharge) summaries, were demonstrated at the event. These features will enable better coordination of care, minimise medical errors and pave the way to a more cohesive health system.
HIE in various forms has become common across many health systems in the world and has become a priority on many a government health policy agenda as a solution to achieving greater cohesion within health systems and as a mechanism to address cost and quality issues in health. Reflecting global best practices, the CareConnect HIE aligns with the world’s most mature HIEs and breathes life into the National Department of Health’s National Health Digital Strategy for South Africa. This important document outlines the country’s goals towards the development of electronic health records and building interoperability and linkages between existing patient-based information systems.
A strict code of ethics relating the use of information is governed by an internationally recognised and best practice multi-party trust agreement, called DURSA. The DURSA provides a framework that deals with sharing of data among HIE participants and defines the permitted purpose for which the data can only be used.
Dr Rolan Christian, CEO of CareConnect HIE shared: “Sharing health data saves lives. The more data the industry shares, the more value and benefit to the patient that will be extracted from the HIE. We envision that CareConnect HIE will become a ‘utility’ for the entire health sector – to enable improved quality of care, better health outcomes and a more responsive health system.”
The event today boasted a stellar lineup of speakers. Notably, Dr Stavros Nicolaou from B4SA and Aspen Pharmacare and Dominick Bizzarro, offering international perspectives from MVP Health Care, joined other industry luminaries. Their combined insights painted a promising future for healthcare – one that’s harmonised, transparent, and unequivocally cantered on the patient.