By Bjorn Biel M. Beltran
Special Features Writer
Coming from a long line of pharmacists, Johannes Andreas Zóbel came to the Philippines from Germany with his family and established the Botica Zóbel pharmacy in Intramuros in 1834. That same year, Domingo Roxas and Antonio de Ayala were creating Casa Roxas, investing in a distillery that later came to be known as the Philippines’ first industry.
Jacobo Zóbel y Zangroniz (Mr. Zóbel’s grandson) and Trinidad de Ayala (Mr. Ayala’s daughter) met some time after, and the Ayala y Compañia, what is now known as the Ayala Corporation, the Philippines’ oldest and largest conglomerate, was later established. The rest is history.
It was that pharmacy almost two centuries ago that serves as the precursor to the company known as Ayala Healthcare Holdings, Inc. (AC Health). Established in June 2015, the company seeks to become a solution to the issues that continue to plague Philippine health care today.
“Our chairman always tells us that we need to find ways to continue to reinvent ourselves as a group of businesses, to always find new ways where we can help the country and help the Filipino people through sustainable businesses. So naturally when you do that analysis and you try to look at different sectors where you can achieve those goals, I think health care rises to the top,” AC Health President and CEO Paolo F. Borromeo told BusinessWorld in an interview.
“I personally have a bias for health care. I always thought there was a lot more to be done in the space.”
AC Health has made it its mission to improve access and affordability in health care for underserved Filipinos, particularly the growing middle class. And clearly, work is just beginning. The overall goal is to build a health care ecosystem with synergies across the company’s multiple assets. Beginning with its partnership with Generika Drugstore, and an innovative primary care clinic chain called FamilyDOC, the company established the groundwork by which it plans to build a network that can provide accessible and affordable quality health care for all.
“I think pharmacies and primary care clinics to us are just the first step,” Mr. Borromeo said. “We’d like to build a hospital base and have an ecosystem of health care assets that refer patients to one another. In other words, having primary care clinics as our frontline, or our pharmacies as pick-up points, and if you’re sick and need more special attention, we can refer you to our hospital partner. We are looking for more opportunities to either build or invest in hospitals that we would ideally integrate into one network.”
At the same time, AC Health is also actively looking for ways to change how health care is provided in the country through the constant monitoring of global trends and research, as well as supporting innovative startups. One example is its investment into MedGrocer, an integrated ePharmacy and medicine benefits management service.
Altogether, the endeavor to create an accessible and affordable Philippine health care ecosystem is taking some time. An inadequate supply of skilled doctors, nurses, and pharmacists in the Philippines, as well as lengthy licensing periods, are just a few of the challenges the company must address in its expansion.
“It’s not easy to expand, find locations, build new sites; it takes time. It’s really a lot of hard work,” Mr. Borromeo said.
But Mr. Borromeo is still optimistic. “Five years down the line, I’d like to see us having the widest network of primary care clinics not just in the Philippines but even in the region. I’d like us to continue to expand our pharmacy network to over 1,500 Generika stores. On the hospital side, I’d like us to target a thousand beds in terms of capacity.
“But more than that, in putting up those facilities and assets, our goal is that we are able to make a difference and improve the quality of health care for more Filipinos,” he added.