Zeger Vercouteren

Vice President Government Affairs EMEA, Johnson&Johnson

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Digitalisation International Co-operation

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Feb 14, 2018

What are the key policies and initiatives you feel could contribute to ensuring better access to education, employment, healthcare and housing?


In the past, we focused on developing innovative products and entered into partnerships that would help make them affordable and accessible to the people who needed them most. Or we worked with partners to train healthcare workers in specific areas to help improve health. But we now know that a more comprehensive approach is needed to make an even greater, long-term impact. And that means you have to take an end-to-end approach and look at what more we can do to deliver better health outcomes for patients. We commit to galvanising partners, mobilising employees, and engaging communities to profoundly improve the course of human health. For this reason, we are dedicating our expertise, ideas, and ingenuity to catalyse efforts to achieve SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being, which is at the heart of the SDGs and the core of our business. Our efforts intend to exemplify the importance of Goal 5: Gender Equality, and will be founded in the principles of Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals. While the world continues to face ongoing challenges with HIV & TB, and many unknown and emerging threats, there is also an increasing shift in burden of disease toward Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) and mental health.

For example: There are now about 10 million HIV patients receiving traditional treatment in Africa. But about 10-15% of them, maybe even more, will become resistant to that treatment and won’t respond anymore. We are now developing a combination of two second-line HIV drugs in one pill. Our hope is that once we get the necessary regulatory approvals, we can make this combination very affordable to these patients in Africa. But because of a lack of affordable and easy-to-use diagnostic tests to identify those HIV patients who are resistant to the current treatment, we’re working with diagnostics companies to ensure that very simple, affordable point-of-care viral-load testing is available in these regions when we get approval for the new drug combination. We also have to work more closely with local healthcare professionals, as well as do outreach within the community to address such issues as the stigma that many people with HIV who are really sick face—they are literally pushed out of society. So the goal is not just to produce the drug combination, but to also build expertise on the ground in conjunction with local governments and NGOs to help us bring all these different elements together until we have measurably better health outcomes. We pledge to do our part to achieve a world where innovations and holistic health solutions prevent, control and eliminate global disease challenges and epidemics.

[Source: Johnson & Johnson Launches a New Global Public Health Strategy in Africa, 6 April, 2016]


We welcome your ideas to help improve diversity, promote gender equality…


By caring for women in our global community, we will continue to fuel innovation in human health. Johnson & Johnson supports and champions people on the frontlines of delivering care and promotes the role of women and girls as leaders in their communities.

The identification of sustainable solutions to global challenges cannot disregard the role played by women and girls. Women are not only caregivers and mothers; they are also scientists, technologists, innovators, mentors, business leaders and community champions.

But while having women participate in the workforce is vital, participation alone isn’t enough. We need to provide future female international leaders with lifelong mentors, top-notch professional skills and new inspiration they can take back to their companies and communities is a way to improve diversity and promote gender equality.


Women leaders are critical—and urgently needed. According to UN Women, the representation of women in both private and public sector leadership remains at unacceptably low levels. Only 18% of appointed cabinet ministers are women. Less than 4% of CEOs in the world’s largest corporations are women. [Why Johnson & Johnson Is Committed to Helping Develop Women Leaders in Our Changing World, 12 March 2017] Changing these figures for the long haul will require a deliberate choice to equip women to lead, at all levels, in society. They are the driving force behind the health of our future world. By caring for women in our global community and promoting them as leaders in their communities, we will continue to fuel innovation in human health.


Shifting the approach to diversity to make sure there’s an equal focus on the inclusion is crucial. In the workplace it is important to track and improve diversity metrics to make sure the workforce reflects the population they serve. [Fortune 100 Executive, Valerie Love, Chats Leadership, Wellness, And Inclusion, 15 May, 2017]


Increasing the number of female students pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math has become a business imperative. Young girls, female college students and professional women must have access to the resources and opportunities they need to excel in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Gender diversity in STEM can accelerate innovation efforts and be the catalyst of a change that will benefit society as whole. [How Johnson & Johnson Is Supporting Women in STEM Around the World]


How can all actors join forces to address inherently global issues in relation to digitalisation, development and climate change?


Digitalisation: Mobile health (mHealth) apps and telemedicine have the potential to lower costs and improve patient care by allowing closer collaboration between patients and healthcare providers. The increasing adoption of health apps and other tools means not only healthier, more informed patients, but a more robust market: mHealth technology is expected to grow to $60 billion in 2020—an increase of 33%. [Is Digital Health Making an Impact on Healthcare? 29 November, 2017]. MomConnect, a mobile service supported by Johnson & Johnson aims to help every pregnant woman in South Africa gain critical information about pregnancy on a mobile phone. In the year since it began, the service has gained 500,000 users, 98% of whom say the messages have helped them. It is the largest program of its kind ever implemented by a government. [How J&J Is Empowering Women Through mHealth Programs, 16 December 2015]. Digitalisation has transformed every aspects of our society and every industry has had to reinvent itself digitally. Digital healthcare is one of the most exciting new frontiers, meeting society and patients demands for better quality of care, improving customer and patients experiences. However, the full potential of this digital transformation can only be achieved if all actor’s society join forces in an integrated effort to re-invent themselves digitally.

Development: The World Health Organization estimates that there is a shortage of at least 1 million health care professionals in the world’s poorest countries. Therefore, collaborating with community-based organizations, non-government organizations and multinational coalitions globally to develop a new generation of frontline health workers (FLHW) such as nurses, mid-wives, pharmacists and community health workers to fill that gap is critical for development. Bringing care and information to families to strengthen health systems globally include training mothers to be health mentors, educating microcredit loan officers to be health educators, and enhancing leadership and supervision within the health workforce. [Frontline Health Workforce, JnJ.com]

Climate Change: The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared climate change to be one of the greatest threats to global health in the 21st century. The organization estimates that one in four premature deaths worldwide are caused by environmental factors, and 3 million deaths each year are linked to exposure to air pollution. And we believe that connecting human health, air quality and climate change will unlock mainstream behavior and policy change at the pace and scale we need, that is why programs that will link climate action with the benefits to air quality and human health are so important. As a Company, we are leveraging our resources and commitment to environmental health to implement climate actions that improve air quality and public health benefits and gain political and financial buy-in to drive greater action. [Caring for the Planet Like Our Health Depends on It: Johnson & Johnson Partners with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, 21 December 2016]


Re-invent! We have made ourselves into health-technology innovators by building a flexible but secure digital IT organization to support faster development of smart healthcare products and to improve customer and patient experiences with the company. True digital transformation touches every part of the organization—from core IT all the way back into the supply chain. So, in our view, it has to be an integrated effort rather than a separate one. You’re going to run into trouble at some point, for instance, if you’re implementing user-centered development and design thinking on the front end, but you haven’t digitized your business processes on the back end. We brought everyone together and said we’re going to take an end-to-end view of digitization—from the way we consume electricity in the data center to the way we interact with customers. And we invited everyone in the company to look at what we were doing—at any point—to see what sort of progress we were making.


What are the key issues we should consider with respect to the implications of artificial intelligence for society and human progress?


Artificial intelligence (AI) poses unlimited opportunity for us to make a transformative impact on patients. Whether it be through new drug combinations, improved medical diagnostics, better accuracy in personalized medicine, or many other benefits - AI could save scientists valuable research time and bring new treatments to patients more quickly.


One of the challenges AI faces in healthcare is widespread clinical adoption. To realize the value of AI, the healthcare industry needs to create a workforce that is knowledgeable about AI so they are comfortable using AI technologies thereby enabling the AI technologies to “learn” and grow smarter.


Another challenge is training doctors and patients to use AI. Learning how to use technology may be a challenge for some. Likewise, not everyone is open to information given by a “robot.” In other words, accepting AI technology is a challenge that needs to be addressed through education.


Complying with regulations is also a challenge for AI in the healthcare industry. For one, there is the need for approvals from regulatory agencies before an AI device or application is applied to health care. This is especially true because AI is at a nascent stage and not a technology that is fully known or understood. Moreover, the existing approval process deals more with AI hardware and not about data. Therefore, data from AI poses a new regulatory challenge for regulatory agencies and may need to be validated more thoroughly. [The Impact of Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare, 24 August, 2017]