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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Vietnam is one of the most potential countries in terms of the pharmaceutical industry in APAC region

Hoang Huyen

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Mr. Alexandre de Muralt is Senior Vice President of Merck Healthcare APAC, the world’s oldest pharmaceutical company. In an interview with The Saigon Times, he discussed the transformation that Vietnam has undergone during 30 years since 1995, when Merck first set up its presence in Vietnam.

It has come to our attention that you have worked in more than 8 countries so far, with Vietnam being the place where your esteemed career in the pharmaceutical industry commenced. As it has been nearly 30 years since your first arrival in Vietnam back in 1995, we are interested in hearing your insights on the transformation that Vietnam has undergone during this time.

Vietnam’s transformation over the past 30 years has been remarkable. From a landscape dominated by paddy fields to a modern nation with towering buildings and upgraded infrastructure, the country has improved steadily and sustainably. The development has also showed consistent growth in its economy and lifestyle improvements. Moreover, the Vietnamese people, known for their intelligence, resilience, and clarity of vision, have played a crucial role in this evolution. Their strong character and independent spirit have driven progress, particularly in the pharmaceutical sector, which has seen significant advancements in registration, importation, and quality control. The healthcare ecosystem is evolving rapidly, with new hospitals and pharmacy chains emerging. Vietnam’s potential in the pharmaceutical industry is now recognized regionally, and while some areas still require improvement, the nation can take pride in its achievements.

Are there any specific aspects of the country in which you have worked for an extensive period that you find concerning and where you aspire to drive change?

Today, Vietnam’s health has undergone a significant shift from infectious to noncommunicable diseases, with rising cases of cardiovascular issues, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and infertility. Especially, the fertility rate has declined below the replacement level of 2.1, reflecting demographic and societal changes in some parts of the country.

Health coverage is commendable, with about 93% of the population insured, but the high out-of-pocket costs for some treatments remain a burden. For example, given the oncology treatment reimbursement of 40%, the patients still need to pay 60%. Also, improvements are needed in early diagnosis and awareness in some areas, particularly for conditions like hypothyroidism, which can have severe health consequences while it is easy to be treated. Newly born children being exposed to hypothyroidism for instance will face irreversible issues to grow normally both mentally and/or physically. Diagnosis rate in Vietnam is still way below world average. The country needs to consider how they can more systematically ensure the testing to diagnose people who may potentially be affected, particularly pregnant women and young children. Another area where I see potential improvement to be considered in Vietnam is early access to the best cutting-edge treatment solutions which would be very beneficial and impactful for Vietnamese patients. Compared to other countries in the region, time for review and approval is still relatively long in Vietnam. Despite these challenges, Vietnam’s consistent economic and social progress over three decades is impressive, setting it apart from many other nations that experience fluctuating fortunes.

Mr. Muralt shares Merck Healthcare’s long-term aspiration for enhancing public health in Vietnam

The 30-year milestone for both the individual and Merck Healthcare is an intriguing coincidence. How has Merck Healthcare, as a “partner”, shared the burden of these health challenges with Vietnam over the past 30 years?

Merck KGaA Darmstadt, a vibrant science and technology company with a 356-year history, is dedicated to advancing human progress and societal change. Our purpose focuses on three sectors: healthcare, life science, and electronics. We innovate in pharmaceuticals, create life with our fertility treatment; improve life with our cardiovascular, metabolic, growth hormone deficiency, thyroid disorders, and multiple sclerosis treatments; and prolong life with oncology solutions. For over 30 years, we have been contributing to Vietnam’s scientific and healthcare landscape, proud to enhance the lives of millions of Vietnamese people through our healthcare business. We supported to enhance physicians’ knowledge on cutting-edge science and treatment solutions, foster a partnership that has fueled their enthusiasm to learn and excel. Our commitment extends to collaborating with medical associations and both private and public sectors to ensure optimal patient care.

I am delighted to highlight some of our impactful collaborations with esteemed hospitals, associations and Ministry of Health sub-departments in Vietnam “As One for Patients”, such as: the free thyriod disorders screening for 46,000 people as part of the “Thyroid Change – For the women I love” project in 2018 and 2019, the pre-diabetes screening program in 2019 and 2020 also helped over 2,500 high-risk people across six major hospitals in Vietnam. In October 2019, we joined forces with the Department of Medical Examination and Treatment Administration of the Ministry of Health to introduce the “Practical Guidelines for Pharmacists in Addressing Non-Communicable Diseases”. As part of our commitment to the region, we proudly introduced innovative treatment solutions for multiple sclerosis, a rare disease, in March 2024.

As I mentioned above, Vietnam faces demographic challenges, with population growth below the threshold. Recognizing this, the Government encourages measures to boost fertility rates. Our ‘Fertility Counts’ program, in collaboration with The Economist, analyzes global demographic trends and proposes solutions. In November last year, we also collaborated with the Vietnamese Government bodies to discuss strategies to reverse the negative population growth. Gender diversity is another significant practice at Merck, with 68% of our Vietnamese staff being female, reflecting our regional aim for balanced representation. This diversity, equity, and inclusion enriches our company culture and fosters a collaborative environment across nationalities, enhancing our collective value and purpose for patients and society.

Mr. Alexandre de Muralt, Senior Vice President, is concerned about the high infertility rate and the number of patients who are affected by oncology and cancer increasing a lot in Vietnam

Looking ahead, what are Merck’s long-term aspirations for enhancing global/regional public health, particularly in Vietnam?

Our company is committed to being a leader in specialty care, focusing on oncology and immunology. We aim to introduce innovative medical solutions globally, including Vietnam, to address gaps like the low diagnosis rate of hypothyroidism. We continue to talk earlier about this disease in several areas where they wanted to provide awareness to people and the importance of potentially making the diagnosis. Collaborating with the medical associations and key stakeholders in healthcare enables access to best treatment solutions and to innovations for Vietnamese patients.

Vietnam’s demographic trend towards negative population growth is concerning. We are working to understand the underlying causes and assist the Government and academia in reversing this negative trend. Our commitment extends to sustainability by working with our business partners to reduce carbon emissions and other environmentally friendly initiatives not just in Vietnam but all over the world.

We are contributing to create, improve and prolong lives for millions people in Vietnam and APAC region and provide solutions for public health issues that may arise. We are keeping on our clear goal of making a meaningful impact on society in a good ethical manner with good values in mind. Everyone, from finance to frontline staffs, contributes to our mission of “As One for Patients”. We are dedicated and united in our commitment to human progress and healthcare excellence.

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