Access to health care in exceptional times
The Covid-19 pandemic is making it more evident than ever that access to health care must be approached and organised on a global scale. Medical researchers – virologists and epidemiologists, for example – do not need that explaining, they know that their research topic is only physically limited by the earth itself.
But the corona crisis is also leading to contrary trends, in which national interests are taking priority. Even companies that prominently exercise corporate social responsibility seem to be swept along with them.
For example, the Dutch company Philips, which produces medical ventilators (essential for treating seriously ill Covid-19 patients) in the USA, risks falling victim to the measures imposed by the American government. The American government can appropriate all equipment produced by Philips in the USA on the basis of legislation imposed in times of war (the so-called ‘Federal Defense Production Act’).
The universal access to health care has been an important theme that PGGM has brought up for years with listed companies that we invest in on behalf of Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn, the pension scheme for Dutch health care workers. It is a set component of our shareholders’ dialogue. With PGGM’s historic roots in the health care sector and keeping in mind the currently much acclaimed beneficiaries of PFZW, we talk to directors of companies about their responsibility to make health care accessible to everyone.
This varies from making diagnostic equipment available in developing countries to making, and keeping, medicines affordable in developed markets. We are convinced that companies can make money while making the world a better place at the same time, in this case literally; ‘doing well by doing good’ we could say. In other words: we want to combine the financial value (for our clients’ participants) with societal benefits.
In the past few years, many companies have shown improvements in the area of access to health care. Various programmes have been set up to make medicines affordable in poorer countries. In addition, the affordability of care in richer countries is getting more attention, including from the pharmaceutical companies themselves. It is definitely not enough, but the trend is evident.
Now measures imposed by national governments are threatening to raise new barriers just as international direction and collaboration are needed more than ever to control the pandemic and global health crisis. As an investor, we consider this undesirable. We expect that companies will do their absolute best to resist such forces and ask them to address governments not to succumb to unilateral nationalism when trying to resolve this crisis.
This means collaboration between companies, governments and all kinds of agencies in the health care sector for a broad agenda of improving the health care system. An example of an already existing collaboration of this type is the programme Access Accelerated. Collaboration requires the parties to trust each other and to keep trusting each other. As an investor we want to contribute to this, certainly now in this global health crisis.
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