Today, the world is increasingly facing the grim reality of climate change. The Middle East, in particular, with its naturally harsh geographical conditions, is vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The already soaring temperatures in the region are reportedly projected to get 5°C hotter this century. Some of the challenges climate change presents include plummeting crop yield in the face of an increasing global population and food demand, amplified disabilities and premature deaths from record high temperatures, and water scarcity.
In an interview with Omnia Health, Hugo Hagen, Senior Bayer Representative and Country Division Head Pharmaceutical Bayer Middle East, spoke about how agility is crucial for businesses to survive climate change-related risks. He also shed light on the company’s sustainability efforts. Excerpts:
What are some challenges that arise when trying to balance growth in the healthcare industry with environmental responsibility?
We live in a fast-paced world – there is often a race to be the ‘first’ or achieve the next big thing. The definition of growth, therefore, has become very limited – to markets, regions, companies, and countries. In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges to achieving balanced growth has been a relatively low adoption of ‘inclusive growth’ across the healthcare sector. This trend is slowly on the mend.
What I mean by inclusive growth is the concept of providing more people worldwide with access to healthcare and food security and designing innovative environmental solutions aimed at decarbonisation, climate adaptation, and biodiversity preservation. At Bayer, economic growth and sustainability go hand in hand. We are working every day to develop means to improve access to nutrition and healthcare sustainably while striving to reduce our own ecological footprint. This ties in with what Bayer stands for – advancing ‘Science for a better life.’
Another challenge is the successful integration of sustainability with corporate strategy. For us, sustainability goes beyond corporate responsibility; it safeguards our future growth. We have, therefore, designed our corporate strategy in line with three core elements – inclusive growth, reducing our ecological footprint, and adopting responsible business practices along our value chain. Lastly, I believe improving the resilience of production and supply chains can be challenging. Our Pharmaceuticals and Consumer Health divisions consistently develop systematically advanced innovations to overcome this.
What can be done to future-proof businesses against the risks associated with climate change?
Having a long-term sustainability strategy keeping in mind investors, regulators and customers is pivotal. Given that the associated risks vary from sector to sector, the way I would go about this is first to assess and identify the exposure a business faces. So, the physical risks associated with, say, changing weather patterns in addition to the transition risks required to reduce greenhouse emissions. Think about how changing regulations and climate change policies stand to affect your business. Scenario analysis comes next – get a more granular view of the macro risks identified. Gather as much data as possible and build models looking into risk appetite, supply chain, and physical location of assets as applicable. And lastly, the insights gained from the rigorous analysis should inform follow-up action and build a long-term resilience strategy. Put in place measurable targets, and at the end of the day, while we identify the risks, it’s imperative to look for changing consumer mindsets, such as an increasing appetite for low-carbon products and services.
Can you provide examples of eco-friendly practices Bayer has adopted to promote sustainability in the Middle East?
Contributing to sustainable development is a core element of Bayer’s corporate strategy and our core values. Plans are underway to further reduce our greenhouse emissions by engaging with our suppliers and achieving 100 per cent carbon-neutral operations through energy efficiencies, shift to green energy, and compensation. Additionally, we have pledged to set emissions reduction targets to keep the global temperature increase below 2°C.
Currently, we are leveraging artificial intelligence, seed genetics for crop protection and smart farming to enhance agricultural output. Developing sustainable solutions to maintain food security in the face of a rising population remains a key focus area. From specialised robots and smart drones to precision crop protection and in-field soil sensors, we are innovating for a better future.
Across the board, we are paying close attention to how our Consumer Health products are made and consumed and are prioritising sustainable brands, products, and packaging. We have taken steps to increase energy efficiency and go renewable across the entire value chain and signed the Global Self-Care Federation’s environmental charter that encourages industry-wide action on the global environmental challenges facing self-care.
One of Bayer’s 2030 goals is to improve access to health. What steps are being taken to achieve it?
When it comes to healthcare, the largest obstacles come down to access, and here in the Middle East, we are dedicated to better delivering those services and products through our vision, ‘Health for All, Hunger for None.’ I think what keeps us going is just using science to enable people to live a fuller and healthier life. There would be no greater achievement than to facilitate access to safe, convenient, and daily health solutions for all.
Over the last few years, we have launched some impactful initiatives. For instance, in 2022, we launched a campaign enabling family planning access to vulnerable communities in Egypt – the most populous country in the Middle East. Continuing the momentum, we are actively creating medically sound content to empower people across the Middle East. By providing helpful information and learning tools, we hope to support appropriate self-diagnosis and self-treatment. That said, it’s still important to consult with a healthcare professional when making health-related decisions.
Additionally, we continue to work with the UNFPA’s Equalizer Accelerator Fund, a platform for partners looking to invest in innovative projects that will improve the health and rights of women around the world. We are committed to launching initiatives to equalise opportunities for women and girls across the globe.
On the pharmaceutical front, in May, we announced the initiation of a phase III study to investigate Eylea (aflibercept) 8 mg in retinal vein occlusion. The ongoing work on Eylea reflects our continued dedication to new research to alleviate the situation for patients and global healthcare systems. Furthermore, our consumer health products, Aspirin and Bepanthen, are gaining new audiences across the Middle East.
By 2030, we will support 100 million people in economically or medically underserved communities each year with self-care. We are working on increasing the availability and affordability of our brands and supporting self-care initiatives. From a women’s health perspective, work is underway to provide access to contraception for 100 million women in low- and middle-income countries by 2030.
Are there any collaborative efforts between Bayer and environmental organisations to enhance sustainability practices?
We recognise the power of collaboration in driving sustainable practices here in the Middle East and beyond. Our sustainable projects, therefore, span across the Middle East, with initiatives alongside the likes of D’AAM, UNFPA, and MOHAP in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Cairo etc. We’re particularly proud of recent initiatives in Egypt that help tackle the growing population and health disparity.
Under the umbrella of the ‘100 million Healthy Lives’, launched in 2018 by the Egyptian government, we partnered with the Egyptian Ministry of Health for a sustainability project aimed at facilitating early detection and treatment of liver cancer.
In an effort to accelerate innovation, we are partnering with several stakeholders such as SILAL (a food and technology company based in Abu Dhabi), the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) (an international, not-for-profit applied agricultural research centre), and PLUG AND PLAY (an innovation platform that connects start-ups, corporations, and investors).
References available on request
This article appears in the latest issue of the Omnia Health Magazine, read more here