Medtronic CEO: The Next Once-in-a-Generation Opportunity

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We are in the midst of a pandemic that could result in millions of premature deaths, billions in additional healthcare costs and trillions in lost economic growth, particularly in emerging markets that are increasingly being counted upon to drive global economic growth.

If this sounds familiar, it should.

Nearly a decade ago, driven by increasing awareness of HIV/AIDS and its impact, the global community coalesced around this growing crisis and made the fight against the disease one of the great success stories of our generation.

One of the key turning points was a United Nations summit on HIV/AIDS in 2001. Similarly, we now have a forthcoming opportunity to address our most pressing global health challenge: “non-communicable,” or chronic, diseases.

Next September, the first-ever United Nations summit on non-communicable diseases will be held. It is a prime opportunity to elevate chronic disease on the global agenda. And it’s a life or death decision for the world’s human and economic health.

That’s why Medtronic is taking part in the Clinton Global Initiativeand why we have made a $1 million commitment to the Non-Communicable Disease Allianceto support its efforts to address this burgeoning epidemic.

Both the Clinton Global Initiative and the United Nations meeting on its Millennium Development Goals, also taking place this week, reinforce the need for collaborations across borders and industries to effectively address global issues.

(Note: Click here to read Medtronic's entire news release on its commitment to the Non-Communicable Disease Alliance)

One of the Clinton Global Initiative’s core themes is improving access to technology. As the global leader in medical technology, Medtronic works to provide our innovation — defibrillators, glucose monitoring systems and stents, as examples — to the people around the world who need them.

Ultimately, our work falls short unless we ensure access, availability and affordability of technology, particularly to those on the lower tiers of the global economic pyramid.

Chronic diseases like diabetes, heart failure, cancer and asthma are emerging as major health burdens in low and middle-income countries, where 80 percent of global deaths from chronic disease occur. If not addressed, chronic disease — already the leading cause of mortality worldwide — will account for 3 of every 4 deaths globally by 2020.

The World Health Organizationestimates that national income losses due to chronic disease could equal the following cumulative totals from 2005 to 2015: China: $558 billion, India: $237 billion, Russia: $303 billion. That represents more than $1 trillion lost in just three countries alone.

Innovative medical technologies can be a part of the solution.

However, only a fraction of people who could benefit from our products actually receive them. A variety of factors, from inadequate medical infrastructure to education to cost, contribute to the problem.

In China, patients often face a difficult situation: they may need a medical device, such as a pacemaker, but they do not know what the device does. How then, can they decide whether to make the out-of-pocket payment? We worked with the Chinese government and leading healthcare providers and patient advocacy groups to develop a solution: the world’s first Patient Care Center. At the Beijing Patient Care Center, people can visit our facility to consult with experts, see and touch the devices, and determine the right treatment for their disease.

Technologies are only valuable when people understand their value, can have access to them, and can afford them. That thinking drives our work on advances such as a leadless pacemaker, which may not require the same level of physician expertise to implant as the current generation of pacemakers. This could allow additional physicians in emerging markets to do procedures to help patients live longer, better, more productive lives.

"Our work falls short unless we ensure access, availability and affordability of technology, particularly to those on the lower tiers of the global economic pyramid." -Chairman & CEO, Medtronic, Inc, William A. Hawkins

Home to 20 percent of the world’s diabetes population, India must find ways to serve an estimated 50 million patients with just 6,000 diabetes specialists. The burden of diabetes is a massive public health issue in India, intensified by inconsistencies in the level of care and a shortage of professionals trained to treat the disease and its complications.

We collaborate with the Madras Diabetes Research Foundation in Chennaito help provide needed diabetes education to healthcare professionals. The long-term goal of the foundation is to provide high quality education to produce diabetologists, diabetes educators, ophthalmologists, podiatrists and other medical professionals to fulfill this growing need for quality diabetes care.

We also are realizing the benefits of remote patient monitoring which allow a doctor in Mumbai — or Minneapolis — to help manage a patient in Bangalore by leveraging simple technologies available to both physician and patient.

Effective design of medical technology is not only based upon machinery and algorithms.

We also consider how to take costs out of the healthcare system, utilize existing infrastructure without creating additional needs, and match our device complexity to the knowledge of physicians in emerging markets to maximize appropriate use.

In the spirit of the conferences taking place in New York this week, it will take many more efforts, in collaboration with many organizations around the globe, to have the impact our patients need.

I hope in 2020 we can say that we turned our hopes into reality, taking every advantage of our talents and technology to address the epidemic of chronic disease, helping people everywhere live longer, healthier, more productive lives.

UPDATED Program Note: Mr Hawkins will be a guest today on CNBC's Closing Bellat 3:20pm/ET Live from the Clinton Global Initiative.

William A. Hawkins is Chairman and CEO of Medtronic, Inc.