During the end of the year break, I took some time to reflect on our 2015 efforts and accomplishments in Global Public Health. I realized that in the past year, we have made significant progress in our Janssen R&D and Access projects. I felt proud of what the teams had realized and grateful to be given an opportunity to address medical needs of many in the developing world.
Images and impressions of the field trips I undertook last year surfaced. One of the most impactful moments was the visit to the Tshepong hospital in Klerksdorp, South Africa. Until recently less than 1 in 5 patients suffering from an extensively resistant form of TB could be cured in this specialized hospital in the North West Province, about 170 km south west of Johannesburg. Needless to say moral was low in the wards. Both patients and doctors realized that the outcome of being admitted to the hospital was more likely not going to be positive and most patients would not be cured. But in the last couple of months everything was changing dramatically. Dr. Hannetjie Ferreira, a medical officer of the unit, was excited to tell us that access to a new TB treatment had made all the difference. In an initial cohort of patients who received combination therapy to treat XDR-TB, no TB bacilli could be detected 6 months after start of therapy in more than 4 out of 5 patients. Patients were still on treatment, she said, but there were strong reasons to believe that from now on, cure was the more likely outcome rather than a dead sentence!
I left the place uplifted and optimistic. I welcomed that boost, because while working in the field of public health in resource limited settings you realize how much still needs to be done, how difficult it is to make a difference and how complex the issues are to be tackled. All of us working in healthcare should realize that what we do – or, more importantly what we don’t manage to do-, has a significant impact on the lives of so many in resource-limited settings.