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What happens when you implement programs to deliver desperately needed pharmaceuticals to high-risk populations living in the world’s poorest communities, and they never get there?

Johnson & Johnson’s Chief Scientific Officer, Paul Stoffels, and Global Public Health Head Jaak Peeters, can tell you exactly what that feels like, and what they’re doing about it.

What drew your attention to the problems with patient access to medicines? 
Stoffels: “I spoke with doctors and nurses while touring a clinic in a southern African country. They told me they couldn’t get treatments for HIV and drug-resistant tuberculosis, and their patients — children — were all dying. I said, ‘but we have access programs to supply those drugs to you for free.’ But what we learned is that while those programs often work, in some areas there are real challenges with the healthcare infrastructure surrounding them. Between the regulatory restrictions, paperwork requirements, and clinic administrative barriers, the medicines weren’t always getting to the patients.”

What was your reaction?
Stoffels: “It was a defining moment for me. I realized that discovering the medicines and making them affordable and available isn’t enough. All the work we were doing wasn’t having enough impact. So we sat down over many months with leaders across our company and with numerous government, NGO, and other partners and started to consider what Johnson & Johnson could do to address the big problems: regulatory systems need to adapt, physicians need to be trained, drugs need to get to clinics, and people need to be educated. We realized that we need a new approach to the many things the overall community was already doing to improve global public health — one that’s holistic in nature — and set about creating it.”

So how are you approaching it? 
Peeters: “We are taking an approach that better leverages the full breadth of our resources and partnerships, and focusing on more measurable impact. We are relying on the community members we work with to reach deep into their communities to educate and support patients. We began by creating a global access group responsible for selecting, contracting, and coordinating local efforts with NGOs and academic, community, and government organizations. We are working on vaccines for HIV and Ebola, so we have a network for clinical development and R&D in several West African countries including Sierra Leone. We are opening satellite offices in strategic locations to cover a wide territory. Then we will build on our existing programs in India and Latin America.”

What are the specific goals?
Stoffels: “We’re focusing on three areas: maternal and newborn health, HIV, and TB. Our goals are to help end preventable maternal and newborn deaths and eliminate death from extensively drug-resistant and multidrug-resistant TB while shortening and simplifying the treatment regimen. We want to help make sure every baby is born HIV-free, adolescents have the tools they need to stay HIV-free, and people living with HIV have access to the treatment they need.”

Are those goals really attainable? 
Peeters: “Yes, absolutely. To have impact in the world, you have to have transformational innovation and transformational thinking in science and technology. All the pieces of the puzzle are there and J&J’s new global health strategy helps bring them together.

Stoffels: “I began practicing medicine in an environment where every HIV patient died. More than 70% of the hospital’s patients were HIV-positive, and it was impossible to do anything to save them. Now, we can have the treatments to save them. We have to make sure that our efforts are taking a comprehensive approach to figure out how our programs can take hold on a global basis and have long-term impact. People’s lives depend on it and so do whole communities.”

Learn more about the new approach and programs from Johnson & Johnson Innovation.