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The power of pharma businesses to drive social change

The importance of CSR programmes


Poverty, unemployment and inequality are perhaps the biggest challenges facing society today. These issues all urgently need solutions, and businesses bear a responsibility in helping to create them. One of the key ways in which businesses can do this is through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes.

Investing in CSR programmes can bring business as well as societal benefits; while helping solve complex challenges in society, CSR commitments can also enhance brand reputation, increase employee engagement and motivation levels, and create a sense of cultural pride among a workforce.

The pharmaceutical industry, with its access to resources, networks and expertise, is in a strong position - and has a responsibility - to drive positive social change. Indeed many companies in the pharmaceutical sector are already doing amazing work in helping to tackle complicated and difficult issues. There are three key ways in which pharma businesses can lead in driving social change.

Increasing access to healthcare

Pharma has an obvious advantage compared to other industries when it comes to driving social change because at its core, our business outputs are all designed to improve and save lives. The research we undertake and the medicines we create are paramount to the well-being of society, and pharma plays a critical role in healthcare and developing medicines, which prevent, alleviate and cure diseases.

However, access to medicine remains a crucial issue for many people across the globe, facing barriers to accessing the healthcare they urgently need. Often this can mean those in rural areas, who face extreme poverty, are left without access to adequate healthcare facilities. For this reason, Astellas is committed to expanding access to healthcare through the development and provision of innovative medicines. For example, we have a focus on, and commitment to, combatting neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Our research teams are collaborating with peers from organisations around the world to help in the development of effective treatments for diseases such as Chagas, cholera, dengue fever and schistosomiasis.

Collaborating through networks

Tackling global health challenges is a mission that can’t be achieved alone. This is why it is important to take a global and multi-stakeholder approach in strengthening and accelerating positive social change. This is achieved through partnership and collaboration throughout our networks - from employees, suppliers and customers to distributors, government and other pharma companies. We can also influence our networks to become more socially responsible by encouraging them to rethink their processes and structures, to ensure they have the best policies in place.

Astellas believes that we are better together, and is therefore a member of Access Accelerated, a global partnership, bringing together 20 biopharma firms and associations. We all share the vision to advance access to non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention, diagnostics and treatment in low- and middle-income countries. NCDs include cancer, diabetes and mental health disorders, which are among the leading causes of death and disability worldwide. Through events and discussion, members provide updates on initiatives and network with like-minded individuals to help Access Accelerated work towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal target to reduce premature deaths from NCDs by one-third by 2030.

Creating a successful charitable giving programme

Setting up a charitable giving programme may be a daunting option for some businesses but it can create a great opportunity to deliver real benefits to society. Pharma businesses can offer their insights and expertise to NGOs to help tackle global healthcare challenges. In order to create maximum impact and engage stakeholders, pharma businesses first need to create a programme that has clear links to their core business models. This can be done in a variety of ways, for example by investing in education in your sector, or using your expertise to tackle societal issues.

In 2014, Astellas Pharma Europe provided a grant to the Fistula Foundation to develop Action on Fistula, our first corporate giving programme aimed at transforming the lives of more than 1,200 women in Kenya suffering with obstetric fistula. The condition is caused by prolonged labour and leads to faecal or urinary incontinence, or both.

We wanted to build the programme on the foundation of our expertise in urology and commitment to building access to medicine. As a company we are focused on addressing unmet patient needs, so we chose to support the Fistula Foundation because obstetric fistula is a key, unmet health need where we knew Astellas could make a tangible difference to people’s lives. Simultaneously, we could support capacity-building in the affected countries. We selected Kenya as a location to focus our efforts, because obstetric fistula is still a major issue there, with an estimated 3,000 new cases of obstetric fistula annually, with the problem particularly prevalent in rural communities.

When developing the programme we also recognised it was important to ensure that we leave behind a legacy and infrastructure within the country, which can continue delivery of treatment to the women in Kenya once the partnership with the Fistula Foundation ends.

To date, the programme has given life-changing reconstructive surgery to more than 2,900 Kenyan women with obstetric fistula, trained six fistula surgeons, set up a fistula treatment network to extend access to services, with six treatment centres enrolled, and built a major outreach programme to identify and bring women in for treatment. We are now in the second phase of our programme, which aims to transform the lives of up to 4,500 fistula sufferers in Kenya by 2020.

We are really proud of what we have been able to achieve with the Fistula Foundation. It highlights the pivotal role pharma businesses can have by using their expertise and collaborating with NGOs to jointly tackle global health issues.

Pharma for good

The industry has the potential to drive social change in our society. We need to review our processes, utilise our networks and identify areas where we can contribute and give back to society. These three areas are examples of how we can make that possible.

The products we produce are fundamental in the treatment offered to patients, but if the people who need healthcare the most have no access, then our vision to improve global health will fall short. We can advance the progress we make by becoming part of a bigger network, which shares the same vision, and by creating a platform where we can learn from each other and foster scientific advances. Through charitable giving programmes we can effectively tackle complex issues and strengthen the support provided to local communities in areas where improvements are urgently needed.

We need to use the power we have to take an active role in improving the healthcare issues faced by millions of people all over the world. Health is a universal right, and barriers to access shouldn’t overshadow the advances made by our industry.

Article by
Christina Chale

is corporate communications director of Astellas Pharma Europe. See for more on the work

15th January 2018

From: Healthcare



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