Many commentators, from President Macron to EU Commissioner Kyriakides, have referred to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as a war against an invisible enemy. Like any war, we have witnessed the heart ache and damage it causes – with over 100,000 lives lost across Europe.
But during these times, we also see the best in people. Not least the tens of thousands of healthcare workers across Europe on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19, the key workers working in social-care settings, those keeping the manufacture and supply of food and medicines flowing during the lockdowns and the many thousands of charities, patient organisations and volunteers delivering services to those who need it. This European humanitarian crisis has produced a European humanitarian response.
I have been proud to see our industry being part of that humanitarian effort. Going way beyond our core priorities of researching and developing new vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for use in the fight against COVID-19 and ensuring the safe supply of medicines to the patients who need them - to partnering and supporting organisations and individuals at the cutting edge of the fight against the coronavirus.
At a company level it’s meant financial and in-kind donations to research institutes, charities, hospitals. PPE equipment, medicines, staff time and expertise – even repurposing industry factories to produce and donate hand-sanitizer or offering free use of laboratory facilities to increase Europe’s testing capacity.
There are too many examples from EFPIA member companies to mention them all. You can find out more about the response from each company on the COVID-19 Response page of our website and some of these are: Ipsen Global donated €2 million to the Institut Pasteur to support the 21 research projects currently ongoing to combat COVID-19, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is donating $10 million to WHO and the UN Foundation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Bayer has donated millions of doses of chloroquine to governments, as well as establishing COVID-19 testing facilities in Berlin. AstraZeneca is donating 9 million face masks to support healthcare workers around the world, GSK is donating surplus reagents to countries to support diagnostic testing and preparing to do the same for surplus personal protective equipment. The Novartis COVID-19 Response Fund will provide $20 million in grants to support public health initiatives designed to help communities manage challenges posed by the pandemic. This list goes on.
It has been about much more than the organizational response. When at 8pm the streets of Brussels and other capitals get filled with the noise of people clapping, cheering from their windows and balconies to thank all those health workers who are risking their lives for us daily. Some of those health workers are pharmaceutical company staff volunteering in our health systems under pressure. Employees in pharma companies often trained in medicine or pharmacology. Their knowledge and skills are being utilized to help overburdened healthcare services, supporting doctors and nurses on the ground. Many EFPIA companies have enabled their staff with medical background to take paid leave and volunteer even for weeks if necessary. As a volunteering physician Dr. Mo Ali has put it: “We are here to serve the people we look after, I cannot stand by and watch this.” Dr Ali is an employee of MSD and asked his direct supervisor if he can stay full-time as a volunteer in a London hospital where he was working initially only on weekends.
Our member Association in Croatia, has coordinated medically trained volunteers from across the industry to staff the COVID-19 helpline. There are company programmes engaging employees to help their local communities, delivering food and medicines to the elderly or to patients with chronic conditions that are especially vulnerable in the current situation.
People across the industry have been putting their skills to use in the fight against COVID-19. A group of Lilly Spain manufacturing engineers joined forces with a 3D printing engineering group in Madrid called “coronavirus makers” to develop protective shield screen masks for healthcare providers on the frontline in hospitals, community pharmacies and nursing homes. Similarly, two scientists in Lilly’s manufacturing site in Kinsale have been part of a group of Irish scientists who have developed an effective formula for a key component of the Covid-19 testing process to support health services in the current global shortage of testing agents for the virus.
Companies are offering trainings online to doctors and patients, even to children who are now confined to study at home while often both parents are trying to juggle their day jobs and put food on the table.
We have outlined our industry commitment to fighting COVID-19 in The European research-based pharmaceutical industry’s commitment to tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the commitment of our industry companies and staff goes above and beyond.
They and #WeWontRest in the fight against COVID-19.