Engaging employees to help unblock better heart health in Asia

Novartis' Ruth Kuguru discusses how the organisation is leading a heart health initiative, and its vital link to employee engagement and wellbeing.
By: | November 30, 2023

Employee health and wellness go hand in hand with employee engagement. When employees are unwell or struggle with health issues, it is challenging for them to stay engaged at work.

Organisations that have strong employee engagement strategies in place, including initiatives to prioritise their employees’ health and wellbeing, will go a long way to create a more positive work culture, increase productivity, and retain talent. Since the global pandemic, more organisations are adjusting their support to reflect this shift, with 49% of organisations in Asia-Pacific reporting that they have increased their investment in wellbeing initiatives.

That is why, as an organisation committed to extending and improving people’s lives, Novartis engaged thousands of our employees throughout the region to help unblock barriers to heart health for themselves and those around them in the lead up to World Heart Day in September.

So why does heart health matter in the workplace?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) claims more lives globally than all cancers combined. In Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMA), more than five people die from CVD every minute – a sobering statistic, considering that 80% of these deaths are preventable.

That is why at Novartis, we have chosen to focus on heart health. When it comes to CVD ailments, these can affect employees’ physical and mental wellbeing, requiring changes to daily routines and disrupting their personal and work life.

“As an organisation, we understand that heart health is important but, as individuals, we often forget to take time to prioritise our own heart health.” – Ruth Kuguru, Executive Director, Communications and Engagement, Novartis Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa

As an organisation we understand that heart health is important but, as individuals, we often forget to take time to prioritise our own heart health. Most people do not experience any significant symptoms of a heart disease until it is too late. Mobilising our workforce to get a cholesterol check is one of the first steps in minimising the risk of developing future heart problems.

Heart health is an important area that employers can look at to support their employees proactively, through awareness, education and encouraging regular check-ups.

A challenge to unblock barriers to heart health

Such sobering statistics were the catalyst for the Unblocked APMA Challenge held in September, a Novartis APMA initiative aimed at encouraging our associates to take action on their own heart health, as well raising awareness of heart heath with their external stakeholders.

This activity is part of the broader Unblocked Movement, an initiative co-created with partners and supported by Novartis APMA to bring patients, their loved ones, healthcare professionals and healthcare systems together to in a shared mission to “unblock” barriers to heart health.

The challenge was two-fold. Firstly, focused on engaging and educating our employees around heart health and encouraging them to take their cholesterol test. Secondly, we challenged all our employees to share what they had learned to help raise awareness with their external connections through conversations on social media and engaging their stakeholders to take action on heart health.

Turning passion to action, action to impactful partnerships

Underpinning the Unblocked APMA Challenge is the internal and external partnerships we want to build to unblock barriers to heart health in our ecosystem.

With the help of a team of Unblocked Country Champions, we undertook a huge internal communications campaign to encourage several thousand Novartis employees to take up the Unblocked APMA Challenge. Over 2,400 employees took their cholesterol test, starting with our Senior Leadership team who led from the fore. During the month of September, ahead of World Heart Day on the 29th, our employees engaged with family, friends and their network to raise awareness of heart health and the importance of getting a cholesterol check. We saw more than 4,700 social posts by employees related to the Unblocked Movement. Their passion and commitment succeeded in engaging more than 27,000 external stakeholders in local activations across multiple countries.

These activations took many forms, for example in UAE, we partnered with employers, including the Gulf region’s leading e-commerce platform noon and Gulf Insurance Group in Kuwait to promote cholesterol screening and education for their employees.

In Taiwan, we worked alongside the National Health Insurance Administration and Taiwan Society of Lipids and Atherosclerosis to advocate for ASCVD management in health policy, whilst in South Korea, Novartis signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) to collaborate on the prevention and management of dyslipidemia for Seoul citizens.

In India, we collaborated with The Times of India for the Unblocked Walkathon through the streets of Mumbai with employees, partners and families joining actress Soha Ali Khan to highlight the importance of beating bad cholesterol in heart health.

Transforming heart health needs collective action

At Novartis, we envision a world where people can live longer and healthier lives, where there is a generational decline in cardiovascular disease mortality. However, we recognise that it takes a whole village to transform heart health in our healthcare ecosystem for better access, better care, and prevention.

Through the Unblocked Movement, we hope efforts to ‘unblock’ barriers to heart health will continue. We encourage more partners from patient communities to healthcare professionals, corporates and policymakers, to join the movement, co-creating actions and solutions to improve heart health in our communities, including those we work with every day.

About the author: Ruth Kuguru is Executive Director, Communications and Engagement, Novartis Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa.