A friend and colleague of mine became a father last week, and amid the celebrations and congratulations, it occurred to me that his new born son may very well see the dawn of the 22nd century.  Despite general concerns over health issues such as obesity, life expectancy in the UK continues to rise.  Ever more sophisticated pharmaceutical treatments to alleviate heart problems, lower cholesterol and stabilise blood pressure are major contributory factors. Thanks to effective immunisation our children are suffering fewer infections during childhood, and better nutrition will help them grow taller and stronger.

The pharmaceutical sector attracts criticism for the influence it wields, but the criticism is often misplaced.  Over 600,000 people are employed in the sector in Europe alone, and they’ve been responsible for over 90% of the world’s new vaccines and medicines over the past quarter of a century.  Profit figures for the sector are enviably high, and enviable profits often draw envious criticism. It’s worth noting, though, that healthcare systems and employers the world over save vast amounts of money and time through the direct benefits of these drugs and treatments.  How many people are spared sick days, surgery visits and hospitalisation by the efforts of pharma suppliers?

In addition to sparing “sick days” pharmaceutical research continues to spare lives.  In the past few days, scientists at McMaster University in Ontario have announced the discovery that the drug Thioridazine can successfully eliminate cancer stem cells in human patients without bringing the toxic side-effects of conventional cancer treatments.

Important links between academic research and the private sector are further in evidence in the collaboration between GlaxoSmithKline and Yale University.  A current joint initiative between them is focussed on the design of new medicines that will degrade disease-causing proteins.  The intention is to enable high quality research to cross the bridge from the academic laboratory to the industrial pharmaceutical pipeline as safely, efficiently and swiftly as possible. Yale students and their children and grandchildren will of course stand to reap the benefits, but there’s cause for optimism that these benefits will also be available to less privileged customers whose need might be far greater.

Although, it currently accounts for only 1.5% of the global pharmaceutical market, demand in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is growing rapidly.  Since 2005, healthcare spending in the region has been rising at an average annual rate of approximately 15%.  According to Business Monitor International (BMI), the MENA pharmaceutical market will be worth $23.7 billion by 2014.

The MENA region’s healthcare systems don’t yet have a tried and tested mechanism for providing universally accessible healthcare of suitable cost and quality. The good news is that many pharma suppliers are tailoring their service to the best possible ad-hoc care, focusing on the shipment of smaller, targeted orders to give customers exactly what they need, exactly when they need it.  Better, faster critical patient care meets economic needs and more to the point, saves lives.

It’s hardly surprising that the pharma sector is poised for major growth in the emerging BRICS economies, and recent developments in Brazil emphasise the potential.  Within the past week UCB, the Belgian-based severe disease specialist has bought a controlling stake in Brazil’s Meizler Biopharma and plans to roll out existing and new products into a receptive and expanding market. Sector growth in Brazil has accelerated via the Saúde Não Tem Preço programme, which distributes free medicines for the treatment of hypertension and diabetes.  Overall the pharma market in Brazil is valued at $4.4 billion, representing a year on year increase of 8.4%.

The potential pitfalls for the sector and for the wider economy are familiar.  Advanced healthcare bringing advanced longevity is set to put a strain on unprepared pensions systems.  As Europe’s population “ages”, giving the continent a major demographic issue, the question of how to accommodate a large group of people no longer in employment looms large.  Last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took steps to address this, drafting proposals requiring all citizens over the age of 25 to pay a proportion of their income towards an “age tax” helping to pay for soaring pension costs and social care bills.  Germany’s federal employment agency predicts that the workforce will be reduced by seven million by 2025.

Cultural pitfalls are more immediate, but the good news is that they can be avoided without the intervention of politicians.  They simply require partnership with trusted professionals who’ll invest their time and expertise, becoming thoroughly familiar with the language of the industry.  These are the partnerships that open doors and keep them open.

Is your website localised?  Are your marketing material and your technical specifications targeted to this new audience? Having invested time and money perfecting your product and identifying a suitable new market, have you taken that crucial final step to make sure your message is conveyed as effectively as possible?  When it comes to cultural credibility there are reliable translation partners who can ensure you’re always speaking to your target audience in a language they’ll understand.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, serious consideration was given to closing the UK patent office. It was widely believed that everything worth inventing had been invented. Anyone who has ever watched a television programme, made an aeroplane journey or marvelled at our ability to send manned flights to the Moon will be relieved that we didn’t draw a line under human ingenuity while Queen Victoria was still on the British throne. Nine decades from now, my friend’s new born son will see a world unrecognizable from our own. Technological advances will no doubt astonish him as they continue to astonish us, and medical advances will maintain his health and well being in ways we can’t yet anticipate. When babies born in 2012 reach out to the world, we don’t yet know which languages they’ll speak or which media they’ll use.

Have a good life, young man. And give my regards to the 22nd century.

DAVID JONES

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  • Gavin Dibley

    Interesting that the MENA model you refer to seems to be making a virtue of a necessity. No infrastructure in place, so you make sure your ad hoc care is as good as it can be.

    Could this work elsewhere or is the Western model still the most practical one moving forward?

  • Paul Chammings

    This MENA model is being pursued by some suppliers, not all, and while it seems to be doing some good we surely have to aspire to a system where a decent level of care is available to all those who need it. I agree the pharma sector requires absolute precision in its translation services but it also needs a framework to operate in.