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Pfizer India: Making healthcare its business
CB Bureau, New Delhi, October 8, 2011
Globally, US-based pharmaceutical company Pfizer discovers, develops, manufactures, and markets prescription medicines for humans and animals. Its products are available in more than 150 countries.

Pfizer also partners with healthcare providers, governments, and local communities around the world to expand access to medicines and to provide better quality healthcare and health system support.

Pfizer’s Indian operations began in 1950. Headquartered in Mumbai, Pfizer Limited (India) has a turnover of US$ 165.86 million (November 2009) and has over 2,300 people on its payroll. The company operates a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility at Thane, Maharashtra. Pfizer brands such as Corex, Becosules, Magnex, Dolonex, Gelusil, Minipress XL, and Benadryl have featured among the top 100 pharmaceutical brands in India.

In 1849, Charles Pfizer, a chemist, and his cousin Charles Erhart, a confectioner, started a company named The Chas, Pfizer and Company Inc. in Brooklyn, USA, with $2,500 borrowed from Charles’ father. Pfizer’s first medicinal product was santonin, used to prevent parasitic worms. In 1942, Pfizer Inc. went public. The same year it first produced an infection-fighting medicine penicillin (discovered by Alexander Fleming) in bulk, in response to an appeal from the US Government to expedite the manufacture of penicillin to treat Allied soldiers fighting in World War II.

Pfizer India directly participates in a variety of programmes and initiatives to assist communities in need. Round-the-year community development programmes support rural and urban healthcare and education projects. In addition, Pfizer employees are encouraged to contribute their time to community development initiatives. Pfizer teams have been involved with initiatives in areas such as cancer, rural healthcare, and disaster relief.

Pfizer India’s community development initiatives include providing access to medicines, support to cancer patient groups, providing health literacy and spreading disease awareness, and assisting education, training, and capacity-building. In 2005, the company was awarded the FICCI–SEDF (Socio Economic Development Foundation) Certificate of Commendation for its social responsibility efforts.

In India, Pfizer instituted the first ever disease-management programme – Healthy Heart™ – in cardio vascular disease (hypertension, chronic stable angina, and dyslipidemia), in partnership with Apollo Hospital, Hyderabad, and Apollo Hospital, Chennai. Elsewhere, the company partners with physician associations to develop recommendations/guidelines for managing specific diseases. Pfizer India also offers patient assistance programmes for glaucoma, breast cancer, and neuropathic pain.

Health literacy and empowerment

The Mother and Child Healthcare Project

Pfizer India has partnered with Arpana Research and Charities Trust to deliver sustainable healthcare to women and children in Haryana and Punjab through the Mother and Child Healthcare Project. Pfizer began supporting the project in rural Haryana in 2002. It has adopted 41 villages for a primary healthcare programme that aims to reduce anaemia in pregnant women and adolescent girls. The project promotes community health including diarrhoea management, antenatal care, and child nutrition and immunisation. Village health workers provide education, training, and disease awareness. The project also aims to identify congenital abnormalities in high-risk pregnancy cases, especially neural tube defects and intrauterine growth retardation.

A three-tier healthcare programme, the Mother and Child Healthcare project consists of the following levels:
  • Primary level comprising village health workers: Community-based preventive health services, implemented by closely knit teams of community workers from villages, including the traditional midwife
  • Secondary level comprising mobile health teams: Mobile clinics, linked to the referral base, visit all the project villages monthly to deliver a wide range of healthcare services for mother and child, including immunization and family planning components. It provides treatment of common diseases and a village-level referral centre, and also technical backup for the primary-level team of village-based health workers. Immunizations now cover over 98 per cent of the children in these target villages
  • Tertiary level comprising referral to the 170-bed Arpana Hospital: Patients and pregnant women are referred to the hospital by midwives and health workers who are based at the target villages. Cases commonly referred are difficult delivery cases/complications; severe anaemia, other maternity and child cases needing referral, family planning operations; pneumonia and other chest conditions; diarrhoea with extreme dehydration; and renal and other stones endemic in the area
Training and building up disease and nutrition awareness are key aspects of the programme. Specialized information and training are imparted to health workers and midwives.

Street plays and meetings on pregnancy care – using specially designed flash cards and focusing on intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) and neural tube defects (NTD) – are conducted regularly across the 41 villages. These street events also cover a spectrum of health issues vital to the community well being.

Pfizer’s support has further enabled Arpana to empower women by facilitating self-help groups (SHGs). The SHGs have used innovative methods like plays and songs and flash cards to effectively communicate healthcare tips. Health activities undertaken by SHGs include mobilizing pregnant mothers for check-ups and immunization, advising pregnant women on nutritional diet, checking home deliveries, mobilizing mothers for child’s immunization, and organizing instant food stalls before the harvesting season.

Nutritional awareness drives are conducted in all the villages. Villagers are mobilized to plant winter seasonal vegetables in their backyards. Training sessions on balanced diet and correct methodologies to preserve vegetables by drying and packing are conducted. This aims to increase awareness on diet and nutrition in addition to ensuring a steady supply of nutritious food. Kitchen gardens as a practical alternative is promoted by free distribution of seeds, networking between Krishi Vigyan Kendra and kitchen garden owners, and training in vegetable drying technique.

Since 2002, the Pfizer–Arpana project has shown heartening results by improving the quality of life of women, children, and families living in the 41 villages. According to a January 2010 report by Pfizer India, these results include:
  • A 32 per cent decrease of anaemia in pregnant women, and a 51 per cent decrease of anaemia in adolescent girls
  • The creation of 1,046 home kitchen gardens that have helped to reduce levels of malnutrition and increase food security at the household level
  • A reduction in infant and maternal mortality, with fewer low-birth-weight infants and a lower prevalence of neural tube defects: a 20 per cent reduction in low-birth-weight babies and a 20 per cent jump in institutional deliveries
  • Better all-round healthcare and awareness of the health needs of pregnant women and children less than five years old, with 94 per cent coverage of antenatal checkups 
On the project, Kewal Handa, managing director, Pfizer India, said, ‘This is a key example of public–private partnerships that can be replicated and help India achieve many of the Millennium Development Goals. In a short span, infant and maternal mortality has declined, along with the incidence of malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Poverty and hunger have been reduced by empowering rural women with livelihoods and savings.’

Indeed, the project encourages the belief that a private sector partnership can build local health infrastructure and capacity in order to provide high-quality healthcare along with social and economic empowerment to low-income populations within a rural setting. It may be noted here that the empowerment of women has also led to the development of micro credit groups. The health awareness meets have gradually evolved and, today, women pool in their savings to help each other set up their business.

Education, training, and capacity building

Pfizer India, Arpana Trust, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and CAP Foundation have formed a strategic partnership for building up India’s healthcare infrastructure and boosting employment generation. The Partnerships for Life Project seeks to provide vocational training and employment to 300 youth aged 18–25 years, from rural areas in Haryana. A third of these young people are being trained to work as nursing assistants and/or community health workers.

The training helps mobilize low-income and marginalized youth by providing them with skills that have been identified to be in demand within the local rural labour market. In the long term, the partners intend to institutionalize the model and determine the potential for replication in other areas. Pfizer has embarked on similar partnerships with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Planet Finance in China.

‘The healthcare issues within India are significant and capacity building is at the heart of any development process. It is one of the core strategies needed to bring about true healthcare and societal transformation,’ Paula DeCola, Senior Director of External Medical Affairs, Pfizer Inc., had stated.

Support to patient groups for cancer

Treating cancer can be long and difficult. Patients not only need effective drugs to treat their condition but also palliative care while undergoing the treatment. Most of India’s cancer patients are poor, and Pfizer has been involved in palliative care aspects.

Pfizer India established a partnership with CanSupport to deliver free palliative care and support to people with cancer. CanSupport is a Delhi-based non-profit society that provides palliative care free of cost to people with advanced cancer. It helps them and their families to make informed choices and to receive appropriate physical, emotional, social, and spiritual support.

Pfizer has funded a home-care team that includes a doctor, a nurse, a nursing assistant, a counsellor, an office assistant, and a driver, to care for at least 30 patients. The team offers medical and nursing care to relieve the pain and distressing symptoms that can accompany advanced cancer; professional counselling; practical advice and support for families; medical equipment and supplies as well as nutritional supplements to those with special needs; and bereavement counselling to grieving relatives.

Other healthcare projects where Pfizer India has been actively involved include:
  • Multiple Sclerosis Society of India (MSSI), a patient support group dedicated to minimizing the effects of multiple sclerosis, both on patients and their families, by aiding and assisting them in coping with the disease and meeting the challenges of daily living. The society is also actively involved in raising awareness about the disease
  • Bombay Leprosy Project (BLP), a non-profit voluntary organization working since 1976 for the welfare of leprosy patients in the city of Mumbai. It is one of the centres recognized by the government of India to receive and treat leprosy patients with Thalidomide
  • Naee Nigah Program, wherein Pfizer partnered with HelpAge to conduct about 7,500 cataract surgeries in 2002–03. This programme aimed to empower the infirm elderly by restoring their independence and dignity, to enable them to continue earning their livelihood with renewed sight. The project funding covered the cost of creating awareness, conducting surgeries, the intra-ocular implants, medicines, food, spectacles, stay, and post-operative care
Pfizer has made clinical research investments of US$6.28 million (November 2009) in India. Among other things, it
  • Formed the Academy of Clinical Excellence (ACE) in collaboration with Bombay College of Pharmacy to provide professional training to investigators and other clinical research personnel
  • Partnered with other pharmaceutical companies and contract research organizations to establish the Indian Society for Clinical Research (ISCR), a professional society aimed at raising the standards of clinical research
  • Launched a new initiative called Pfizer Education and Research League (PEARL), in which Pfizer seeks to partner with institutes to improve existing clinical research and continuing medical educational capabilities

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