Meeting the Needs of South Africans during the COVID-19 Pandemic 

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and the vaccination campaigns ramp up, Roche is continuing to act with urgency, passion and purpose to help meet the needs of people, communities and health systems around the world.  

As a company, we have invested in researching and developing diagnostics and treatments that are essential to overcoming the pandemic, and we are working closely with health authorities globally to provide broad, equitable access to our diagnostics and treatment options.  

Though a global crisis, we are keenly aware of the diverse challenges and burdens of different regions and countries. South Africa has faced one of the most severe COVID-19 outbreaks in the world, and accounts for nearly half of all COVID-19 cases and deaths on the African continent1. For many, poverty and unemployment made implementing preventive interventions such as hand-washing and social distancing difficult, and a dual-disease burden for the 7.5 million people living with HIV2 and millions more living with non-communicable diseases (NCDs), exacerbated the challenges of responding to a health crisis of this magnitude and strained the already overburdened health care system.3  

Defeating COVID-19 requires a holistic approach

"Although vaccinations are increasing globally, there remains a critical unmet need world-wide to prevent infections and provide immediate protection from Covid-19 between close contacts." Roche Chief Medical Officer and Head of Global Product Development Levi Garraway

Given the diverse global needs, Roche recognizes there is no ‘one size fits all’ COVID-19 response. Public health measures like screening, social distancing and mask wearing, as well as vaccinations and seeking to identify effective treatment and preventive options, are all critical components of a holistic response.  

In South Africa, there are no specific treatments authorised for Covid-19 patients. Roche and our healthcare partners recognise that treatments that are tested and proven safe and effective against COVID-19 could be a valuable complement to vaccines and a tool to effectively end the pandemic. They could not only help patients recover, but could have the potential to prevent people from developing disease after exposure and be a useful means to prevent virus spread and lower the overall viral load in a community. 

While there are no COVID-19 treatments currently approved and authorized for use in South Africa, COVID-19 treatment options that are proven safe and effective have the potential to reduce pressure on health systems, manage hospital capacity, alleviate bed shortages and a lack of intensive care units (ICUs), and help to effectively manage the illness moving forward.  

Partnering to advance COVID-19 research  

Over the last year, Roche has been collaborating with partners to identify and investigate treatments aimed at helping different groups of patients at every stage of disease severity. Our approach includes research to understand the potential of our existing medicines in the pandemic setting and exploring other investigational treatment options with partners. These approaches are currently in clinical trials and/or being utilised in other countries and not approved for use in South Africa:  

 

  • Neutralising antibodies: With partner Regeneron, Roche is exploring the efficacy of neutralising antibodies, which attach to the virus, stopping it from latching onto the body’s cells and preventing it from infecting the body.  Global clinical trials have found promising indications that neutralising antibodies reduced hospitalisation or death by 70% in non-hospitalised patients with COVID-19.4 

 

  • Immunomodulators: Roche is investigating and conducting clinical trials on immunomodulators that support the immune system so that it works effectively, generally regulating or reducing its response to disease.  

 

  • Oral antivirals: In partnership with Area, Roche is also investigating oral antivirals’ ability to stop the proteins that allow the virus to multiply and infect more cells in the body. 

 

Diagnostics 

Roche is also providing reliable, high-quality diagnostic tests that are essential for healthcare systems to overcome the pandemic, such as tests to detect if someone has COVID-19 currently, tests that show if someone has had the disease recently, and those that assist in identifying severe inflammatory responses in COVID-19 patients.  

Since the impact of COVID-19 goes beyond those who contract it, Roche is also partnering with healthcare providers, laboratories, health authorities and organisations to ensure patients continue to receive the tests, treatments and care they need during these challenging times. 

In 2020, Roche conducted 314 million tests globally with our products to diagnose active SARS-CoV-2 infections or measure related antibodies. We also produced 55 million tests for blood gas analysis and 53 million tests for sepsis management, which also played a vital role in the fight against COVID-19.

Beyond the labs in South Africa

Throughout the pandemic, Roche has stood together with governments, healthcare providers and all those working to overcome the pandemic to strengthen health care systems so that they are more resilient in the future.  

In South Africa, we are proud to continue supporting the Phelophepa Healthcare Trains, which have become a critical part of South Africa’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. The two healthcare trains, which for 25+ years have provided facilities to conduct general health, dental and eye checks in rural communities, are now providing essential COVID-19 screening, testing and awareness services for rural South Africans.  

In addition, Roche made a donation through the Friends of Phelophepa, an employee foundation, to provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sanitizing equipment to keep the trains’ healthcare workers as safe as possible in their community outreach efforts. 

 

[1] World Health Organization Africa: https://www.afro.who.int/news/noncommunicable-diseases-increase-risk-dying-covid-19-africa 

[2] UNAIDS https://www.unaids.org/en/regionscountries/countries/southafrica 

[3] Karim, Salim S. Abdool M.B., Ch.B., Ph.D. “The South African Response to the Pandemic.” The New England Journal of Medicine (2020) : https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2014960

[4] Roche: https://www.roche.com/media/releases/med-cor-2021-03-23.htm