Our Mission: Patients’ Access to Treatments

Άρθρο κ. Κωνσταντίνου Μ. Φρουζή, Προέδρου ΣΦΕΕ
European Business Review (EBR)

Mr. Konstantinos M. Frouzis article in European Business Review, May 2013

The pharmaceutical sector is one of the most dynamic sectors: intrinsically connected with human life and the viability of societies, it has not ceased, not for a single moment, to face challenges, as its activity is centered on human health. In this difficult time it is important to highlight the value of medicines for human life and the contribution of our industry to the national economy. According to authoritative studies on Greece, the recent study by McKinsey & Company being a notable example, our sector is considered one of the six “rising stars” that can be drivers of GDP growth.

The industry’s contribution to GDP is estimated at about €3 billion, while it has been calculated that every €1,000 spent on domestically produced medicines translates to an increase of €3,420 in GDP. At the same time, Greek pharmaceutical companies export to more than 100 countries worldwide; bringing in fact, last year the industry ranked first in terms of export performance.

However, in a recession like this and in an economy that has been ailing and contracting for six years in a row, business firms cannot but be directly affected. The pharmaceutical sector in particular has been hit by two factors: on the one hand, the adverse macroeconomic environment took a heavy toll on the industry, through an unfair and overly severe haircut on its Greek government bond holdings; on the other hand, we have been targeted as a key area of public expenditure cuts.

The challenges we are facing are numerous: the growing debts of EOPYY and public hospitals; difficulties in access to liquidity; declining sales due to the shrinking of the market, which has sometimes been forced and without a plan; and last but not least the losses from the PSI. We in the pharmaceutical industry have repeatedly stressed that the path to growth passes from the ability to restore a stable and reliable business environment in which conditions will not subject to constant change, including a predictable tax regime, a sound pricing process, and, above all, the timely settlement of public sector debts.

Furthermore, we are facing constraints on our business activity, as imports of new medicinal products have been effectively banned for 2.5 years now. Instead, we believe that it is high time that Greece opened the door to innovation, which is the oxygen that stokes the fire of bold entrepreneurship. For us, the pharmaceutical industry, this means uninhibited access to innovative medicines. Innovative medicines are the achievements of research and represent investment in health; they are instrumental to improving the quality of life and at the same time they are economic tools that can contribute to growth and prosperity in our country, through investment in clinical research and manufacturing. Innovation involves multifaceted investments, substantial capital inflows that can boost growth, expertise, jobs, modernization and progress! This is a direct contribution to GDP growth.

It should be noted that it is not so much the decline in GDP that prevents growth as the fact that we do not seem to be willing to change, although we can. Actually, the contraction in GDP could to some degree act as an incentive, implying that we have more potential for growth than e.g. Luxembourg which has a very high GDP per capita. The country just needs to convince that it is determined to follow an upward path, not a downward one. This is something we have not done as yet. We need to convince that we can be productive and reliable.

A business firm can of course work out survival solutions, including more flexibility or downsizing, but this would entail sacrifices in terms of jobs, investment in Greece and contribution to the economy. However, the industry’s main concern is not its own survival at any cost, but rather the welfare of Greek patients. Specifically, for 2013, total pharmaceutical spending by the citizens of the 27 countries of the EU is projected to be 50% higher than for the citizens of Greece. For 2014, the comparison should be even more unfavorable for Greek patients. It is therefore certain that the target of 1% of GDP for pharmaceutical spending is a disaster waiting to happen. I repeat that pharmaceutical policy should be guided not only by absolute figures but also by social and living standards considerations. There must be an objective level that can ensure decent conditions of healthcare and, most importantly, patients’ access to new treatments and medications.