INTERVIEW: JUERGEN KOENIG, MANAGING DIRECTOR MERCK MARKER
Cost of hospitalisation, tests & doctors-the real issues
National health service concept needed education & documented economy
Sep 24 - 30, 2007
Juergen Koenig, Managing Director Merck Marker (Pvt) Ltd. did his MBA in Finance and Marketing. After working for he Brazilian Government, for an insurance company and teaching at the University, he joined the BASF Group for which he worked in different positions, in different companies and in different countries. The last was for BASF Pharma (Knoll) as Managing director in Pakistan from 1998 to 2001. In September 2001, he joined the German Merck Group and took over as Managing Director of Merck Marker in Pakistan.
He was the Chairman of the Pharma Bureau-a Committee of the Overseas Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OICC&I)-during 2002/2003, Co-Chairman during 2003/2004 and was again the Chairman during 2005/2006. He is now the new Chairman of Pharma Bureau and IPR Committee 2007/2008.
Talking to PAGE on different health issues faced by the people in Pakistan, he remarked in a lighter mood that people generally don't want to spend on health rather they love to spend lavishly on entertainments and other secondary elements like fast foods, drinks etc. They make hue and cry when they had to spend on medicines.
It has become a cliche that medicines are very expensive in Pakistan as compared to neighboring India. Contrary to that concept, prices of life saving drugs in Pakistan frozen for more than five years and there was no upward revision in the prices of life saving drugs. On the other hand the cost of production going up due to inflationary pressures and increase in the prices of raw material. He said Pakistan pharmaceutical industry has to import raw material for medicines while India was producing raw material within the country.
Koenig said that people have targeted the pharmaceutical industry on the issue of prices while they are overlooking the real problems in the health sector. He said look at the cost of hospitalization, room charges, costly medical tests and the fee being charged by the doctors have made health an issue beyond the reach of common man.
When asked what steps he would suggest being the Chairman of Pharma Bureau and also the chief of a multi-national pharmaceutical company for initiating the concept of a national health service in Pakistan?
Koenig with a smile said we needed to have two things prior to launching a National Health Service program. On top of the two basic elements comes the Education to create awareness in the people and the next is the documentation of the economy without which we cannot launch any nationwide campaign or plan because money is involved at a massive scale. Everyone would be required to put his efforts for bringing documentation in the economy to strengthen the hands of the government to chalk out a better health service program for the massive. The real problem in this country was that people avoiding or evading documentation of the economy in the real sense which is the real problem to be addressed by inducing a national spirit, he said and referred example of Brazil for implementing the concept of a documented economy which at the end of the day helps everyone the citizens and the government as well.
As far as Merck was concerned, we are doing the best at our level to provide health facilities to the needy people as a responsible corporate citizen in Pakistan; he however regretted that authorities in Pakistan were not sincere to the cause of human health. He cited various examples where Merck offered to provide medical services in some underdeveloped areas of the country and Merck is offering its services in health and education sector. The cold response of the authorities on various constructive proposals is discouraging but they cannot weaken our resolve to serve the humanity, he said in a firm tone.
Koenig however recommended that preventive measures and preventive medicine are being advised the world over. However, education plays an important role to create awareness among the people about the real worth of preventive measures for healthy life. Hence both education and health are linked together basically it is the education which demand greater attention of the government as well as the society to combat the health problems more effectively, he said.
Replying to a question regarding contribution of Merck Marker (Pvt.) Limited in the development of health and social development of Pakistan, Koenig said Merck is no stranger to championing social causes in Pakistan.
As a socially responsible corporate citizen, Merck Pakistan not only practices high standards of ethics and integrity in its conduct, but also is continuously on the look out towards enhancing the fabric of the local society. Currently, Merck Pakistan's "Corporate Social Responsibility" projects are focused around the following four areas:
In the field of health Merck Pakistan has made the' following contributions:
A) TV and Radio Programs:
Merck Pakistan fulfilled its responsibility towards the social uplift of the local society by contributing towards raising general health awareness by airing health awareness programs on both radio and television aimed towards disease prevention.
Since September 2004, Merck Pakistan had bee n airing a health awareness series on television. The program entitled Merck Aur Sehat Saath Saath" literally meaning, Merck and health go together" was aired every Monday on national television for over 100 weeks. Each episode featured a short documentary video package elaborating on the prevalence of a particular disease in Pakistan followed by a panel discussion of medical experts on prevention, identification and management of that disease. From Diabetes to Cardiology, from Oncology to Ophthalmology, most disease areas were addressed in this specially tailored TV program. Merck also partnered with the local Ministry of Health by airing "Polio Immunization" commercials for the Ministry of Health free of charge during commercial breaks in the program.
Merck Pakistan also aired a radio program by the same name on a local FM station. The program was, aired for two years and featured key opinion leaders providing patients an opportunity to pose health related questions to trained medical professionals live on air.
B) FREE MEDICAL AND AWARENESS CAMPS:
Throughout the year Merck Pakistan also sponsors free medical camps nationwide to take medical services to the doorsteps of people living in remote areas. Free blood glucose screening and medical check ups are a regular feature of these medical camps. Just recently in April it has sponsored a series of free Neuropsychiatry medical camps in the Sindh and Balochistan province of Pakistan, with an aim to break the taboo of seeking medical advice for psychiatric disorders. The prevalence of psychiatric disorders can be gauged from the fact that over 900 patients attended the camp at Sukkur.
C) DISPENSARY AND MATERNITY HOME AT BABA 13HIT ISLAND:
Merck has also established a dispensary and maternity home at Baba Bhit, an off shore island adjacent to Karachi. The dispensary comprises of four doctor rooms, separate male and female waiting rooms and wards, and an operation theatre. The centre will be run in association with Sir Syed Medical College providing free medical treatment to the population residing on Baba Bhit and neighboring islands.
D) SMALL MEDICAL FACILITY IN LAHORE:
Merck Pakistan is also constructing a small medical facility in association with S.V. Trust in Lahore, which will house two doctor's rooms in addition to other facilities.
E) OP1) AND CASUALTY WARD CIVIL HOSPITAL QUETTA:
Merck Pakistan has also undertaken the expansion and renovation of the Out Patients Department (OPD) and Casualty Ward at Civil Hospital, Quetta, which is a Government owned hospital. Previously the OPD waiting area at the hospital used to be in the open air, but Merck Pakistan has undertaken the construction of a new building for the purpose with an aim to alleviate the suffering of the local community.
F) OP1) AT PAKISTAN INSTITUTE OF MEDIAL SCIENCES:
PIMS is one of the major hospitals of the northern region of Pakistan and most of the victims of the October 2005 earthquake were evacuated to this very hospital. Merck sponsored the total renovation of the Emergency Ward of the hospital, which was inaugurated by the Federal Minister Of Health in May 2006. It is worth mentioning that the project was commissioned before the earthquake hit the northern areas.
HEALTH EDUCATION PILOT PROJECT:
Merck Pakistan is sponsoring a pilot project in the field of health education in association with The Aga Khan University Hospital. As part of this project The Aga Khan University and Hospital is running a three-month long health education program for students of grade 6 in two schools in Karachi. If proven successful the program will be rolled out to all schools in Pakistan.
H) FREE MEDICAL FACILITIES FOR FACTORY EMPLOYEES:
Merck Pakistan provides free medical attention to its employees and their families at the Quetta factory. A separate medical center has been set up on the factory premises, which is visited by a female and a male doctor regularly.
I) RENOVATION OF THE 2 LECTURE HALLS AT KING EDWARD MEDICAL UNIVERSITY
Merck Marker undertook the execution of completely preserving and modernizing the 2-lecture hall by installing state-of-the-art technological equipment.
Similarly, in the field of education Merck Pakistan has the following numerous projects to it's credit:
A) SCHOOL DEBATE:
Merck Pakistan for the past three years has been sponsoring a school debate organized by the Rotary and Inner Wheel Club. Yearly up to "0" Level or equivalent students from various top schools of Karachi compete in this declamation contest, which focuses on subjects such as the effect of globalization on the poor.
B) SCHOOLS IN QUETTA:
With an aim to foster new talent in Quetta, where Merck's production facilities are located, Merck Pakistan, in partnership with "The Citizens Foundation", a local
NGO is building two high (grade 1 to 10) schools and a college (grade 11 and 12). The two schools are being built in the main city and will accommodate 1300 students in total and will also serve as an education institution for children of a SOS Home also cosponsored by Merck Pakistan. The first primary school has started classes recently.
C) SUPPORT FOR SOS CHILDREN VILLAGE:
When the SOS Village of Pakistan decided to make an SOS Village in Balochistan, with an aim to provide shelter to destitute children, Merck Pakistan succeeded in convincing the Government of Balochistan in granting the land free of charge for construction of the SOS village. The SOS village started with one home housing one mother and eight children. This is a mega project requiring a multitude of funds whereby the Balochistan Government pays the rent of the home, but Merck Pakistan provides the necessary furniture and infrastructure for housing these children. Also the administration of the Merck Factory takes care of basic medical attention of the SOS Home children at the factory medical centre in Quetta. The construction of the SOS Village will commence after necessary funds from sponsors from abroad have been received.
D) EDUCATION PROGRAM FOR WORKERS:
Merck Pakistan offered adult education classes to its factory workers for 18 months, where they were not only given free books but also paid an "education allowance" for two hours four times a week to attend the classes.
E) ADVANCED EDUCATION PROGRAM:
An advanced education program also started in 2006 for its factory workers in Quetta in 2006.
Merck Pakistan also believes in conserving the environment it operates in and with this aim in mind has undertaken the following projects:
A) TREE PLANTATION IN QUETTA:
Merck Pakistan has planted three thousand tree saplings adopting modern techniques of drip irrigation, at the drought stricken Hanna Lake in Quetta. The aim of the project is to beautify one of the popular recreation areas of the city and to conserve it for future generations.
B) BOOK REGARDING CONSERVATION OF KARACHI'S MARINE COAST:
In an effort to raise awareness about the marine environment, Merck Pakistan has also sponsored a web site and a book of Mr. Aziz Agha, an active local advocate of marine environment conservation, on the same subject.
A) YEARLY CALENDARS:
Yearly Merck Pakistan makes it a point to promote some aspect of Pakistani culture or art through its calendars. The calendar for the year 2003 featured the calligraphic art of the renowned artist Gu1jee, while the calendar of 2004 featured designs of traditional Balochi embroidery. The Merck Calendar 2005 was related to the modern and ethnic fashion art of Pakistan, showing the colorful and elegant face of Pakistan _ while respecting the ethnic roots. The Calendar 2006 entitled " Journey through Pakistan", showed landscapes from different regions of Pakistan painted by Pakistani painters. The paintings featured in the calendar as well as some additional paintings were sent to Frankfurt, Germany, in July 2006, for an exhibition sponsored by Merck.
The current calendar for 2007 is a tribute to the late Bashir Mirza, whose portfolio of ten drawings entitled a "Portrait of Pakistan" form the basis of Merck Pakistan's Calendar 2007. The calendar highlights the beauty of the ethnic faces of Pakistan in the form of marvelous pencil drawings.
In homage of the historical inhabitants of Moenjodaro, Merck sponsored a fortyfoot sculpture prepared by the internationally renowned sculptor, Amin Guljee. The sculpture stands tall at Clifton round about at the gate way to Sindh and was sponsored in association with four other multinational companies.
Merck Pakistan also donated medicines, mainly antibiotics, to the victims of the Tsunami, which hit Sri Lanka in 2005. The donation was made to the Government of Sri Lanka, but was distributed and controlled by Merck's distributors in Colombo.
Merck is also actively involved in the rescue and rehabilitation efforts _ of the victims of the earthquake in the northern areas of Pakistan. The press widely highlighted Merck's contribution of Pak Rupees 20 million to The Citizen's Foundation, for the construction of 55 anti-seismic houses in Kapabat , Bala, which will be ready in the first half of 2007.