MSD Vietnam maintaining care in pandemic times

November 22, 2021 | 10:26
The disruption of routine care has been an indirect impact of the pandemic that must be immediately addressed. Jennifer Cox, general director of MSD Vietnam, talked to VIR’s Bich Thuy about how MSD, known as Merck & Co., Inc. in the US and Canada, has played an active role in supporting the return to routine care amid the pandemic.

How do you view the progress facing healthcare in Vietnam?

Jennifer Cox, general director of MSD Vietnam
Jennifer Cox, general director of MSD Vietnam

Vietnam’s strong economic growth continues to propel the country forward. The country has achieved significant improvement in public health, yet important challenges remain.

The life expectancy increased remarkably over past years but the mortality rate of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular, and corresponding disease burdens are on an upward trend. Vietnam is among the fastest-ageing countries in the world, reducing the time available to prepare for the challenges of population ageing. The demand to not only live longer but healthier urges the healthcare system to elevate itself.

Regarding infectious diseases, the immunisation coverage and vaccine equity in Vietnam has improved considerably thanks to the great efforts of Expanded Programmes on Immunisation. Yet, the pandemic has potentially reversed years of progress to expand vaccination initiatives around the world and require efforts to recover routine vaccination, avoid unnecessary societal costs, and protect the health of communities.

What has MSD been doing to support Vietnam during the pandemic in order to maintain routine care?

As soon as the worst coronavirus wave emerged in April, with an aim to share the responsibility with the government, MSD joined American and European chambers of commerce members to donate much-needed medical equipment like ventilators. Globally, we invested billions of US dollars in COVID-19 research, development, and manufacturing efforts, mobilising scientific expertise and resources to contribute to the global pandemic response.

We announced in October that molnupiravir, an oral antiviral COVID-19 medicine, significantly reduced the risk of death or hospitalisation at a planned interim analysis of phase 3 trials in at-risk non-hospitalised adult patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19. At the interim analysis, molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalisation or death by approximately 50 per cent, which is hoped to become a key as part of the global efforts to fight the pandemic.

MSD has a long track record of making medicines and vaccines accessible and affordable globally and is firmly committed to doing the same for molnupiravir. We entered into a voluntary license agreement with the Medicines Patent Pool to facilitate affordable global access for molnupiravir use in 105 low-and middle-income countries. Local pharmaceutical companies are free to apply through the pool.

COVID-19 is causing continued disruption to health services. Even during the pandemic, care for diseases like cancer, routine immunisation, and medical check-ups remain important. We have been collaborating with the medical community and organisations to address COVID-19 and to protect continuity of care for patients as well. We deploy diverse activities in maintaining access to medicines and vaccination, educating the importance of a return to routine care and investing in addressing critical healthcare challenges in underserved communities which were worsened by the pandemic.

In Vietnam, MSD has launched vaccines to help prevent diseases such as mumps-measles-rubella, varicella, and rotavirus. During the pandemic, MSD continues to partner with the Vietnam Association of Preventive Medicine to deploy campaigns raising awareness of the importance of preventing cervical cancer via digital platforms.

As a leader in oncology focusing on immunotherapy, which is accessible by patients pursuant to their physicians’ advice through certain patient access programmes in 23 hospitals nationwide, we have several suggestions to accelerate remote consultation and allocate medicine to appropriate medical centres so that patients can access easier and reduce disruptions.

The pandemic also offers a unique opportunity to speed up digital transformation, so we have hosted a series of virtual medical conferences with the participation of thousands of healthcare professionals to increase capability on primary care like diabetes and proper use of anti-microbials, which support in COVID-19 treatment and a return to routine care.

The pandemic also highlighted a gap in access to healthcare, especially in vulnerable communities. How has MSD Vietnam contributed to tackling this?

With unwavering commitments to make a difference to the lives of Vietnamese people, we have focused on tackling critical health challenges in vulnerable communities that are at risk of being left behind. In September this year, MSD donated $1.2 million to the United Nations Population Fund to continue the MSD for Mothers programme into 2023.

In addition, a project based on leaving no-one behind, investing in innovative interventions to reduce maternal mortality in ethnic minority regions of Vietnam such as Bac Kan, Lai Chau, Son La, Kon Tum, Gia Lai, and Dak Nong, was kicked off. This project will also integrate COVID-19 prevention and control as well as the development and operation of telehealth into the existing productive health programme to promote safe maternal deliveries.

To narrow the gap in accessing primary care for those people living in underserved areas, over the last four years, the MSD Foundation has committed $7 million to the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center to support expansion of ECHOTM (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) programmes in both India and Vietnam.

This scheme is a tele-mentoring model that links expert specialists with community healthcare providers through virtual clinics to enable the ability to treat preventive and specialty diseases within communities.

For 25 years in Vietnam, MSD has committed to becoming the most admired and trusted healthcare partner. We will continue to partner with medical communities, associations, and the government to tackle the most critical health challenges and improve the lives of Vietnamese people along the way.

By Bich Thuy

What the stars mean:

★ Poor ★ ★ Promising ★★★ Good ★★★★ Very good ★★★★★ Exceptional