Over the past two years, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pace of change required across the healthcare industry to meet patient needs has been unparalleled. The sector faced unprecedented demand worldwide, resulting in unexpected and rising costs. Besides having to treat many COVID-19 patients, healthcare providers everywhere struggled to maintain treatment of non-COVID patients and faced issues concerning supply chains, which threatened patient access to vital medications.
Despite these incredible challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the remarkable speed and innovation to which industry stakeholders could respond. Leading healthcare providers quickly understood that meeting patient needs necessitates an agile, innovative and collaborative approach.
As traditional competitors embraced these values, we saw the sector come together to address the 21st century's most pressing public health crisis. In total, 93 partnerships were registered with the WHO in a year, formed to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. This is compared to 101 collaborative efforts in the two decades leading up to 2011, demonstrating a significant change in attitudes toward cooperation between healthcare providers.
The pandemic saw several industry collaborations materialize, especially with the aim of therapeutic and vaccine candidates. Fundamentally, COVID-19 has made clear that the healthcare industry is an ecosystem in which innovation will be driven by several stakeholders working together, hand in hand.
Of course, innovation across the healthcare industry is simultaneously occurring with digitalization – a trend accelerated by the pandemic. Besides finding a vaccine to protect against coronavirus, healthcare players have had to consider how to continue managing operations and meeting patient needs despite pandemic-related restrictions and disruptions. As a global community and industry, we have learned new ways of collaboration. The way forward will be characterized by greater technology adoption and accelerated learning.
When supporting patient outcomes, we must continuously look for ways to harness digitalization to reach patients better, especially vulnerable patients, improve care responsiveness, and close gaps in care delivery. For example, digital technologies enable remote monitoring of patients enrolled in clinical trials, a boon during adverse scenarios such as the pandemic and when the patient is located very far from care centers. Digitalization will be vital to maintaining patient support programs, especially those designed for patients with rare diseases.
In terms of new technologies that will continue to grow, the potential of investments in digital infrastructure, AI and Big Data will be among the most crucial. We can accelerate diagnosis and support the discovery and delivery of life-transforming therapies by collecting, connecting, and exchanging real-world data from all corners of the healthcare ecosystem.
It will be critical to address the many high-risk, high-burden diseases that continue to plague societies around the globe beyond COVID-19. For example, about 50 percent of the world's population lives under the threat of dengue, a rapidly spreading mosquito-borne viral disease responsible for approximately 390 million infections globally per year.
Big data can support mapping dengue breeding sites and locations of patients with infection, allowing public health experts to identify target communities and shorten response times. Similar location-based technologies have already been used to map and contain COVID-19 transmission.
This, however, is only one example of how digitization holds such promise. The industry must adopt a more flexible, data-driven approach to cater to future healthcare needs. By harnessing digitalization, together with an innovative, agile and collaborative approach, we can meet the healthcare challenges of the 21st century.
The pandemic has sowed seeds of a new form of a socially-forward model for collaboration and healthy competition within innovation. I can say with great certainty that these will deliver patient-centric solutions faster than ever before.