Pharmaceutical industry: how to respond to health-related challenges in Africa?

The pharmaceutical market in Africa is one of the fastest growing in the world and one of the most dynamic high potential growth and economic drivers in Africa; and is expected to reach $52-60 billion by 2020. Local production represents a huge potential to stimulate economic and industrial growth on the continent, while providing a local, secure and sustainable response to Africa’s significant health needs.

The growth of the pharmaceutical industry in Africa was at the heart of the Africa Pharma Conference, organized last month in Johannesburg by AUDA-NEPAD. Indeed, this meeting focused on best practices, progress and the road ahead. Significantly the Conference highlighted the huge market potential, with the attendant benefits of driving economic development and ensuring pharmaceutical security for the continent. In this regard the conference came up with a set of clear recommendations for the continental leadership that are required for local industry to realise its huge potential. The message of the conference was real and unambiguous. African markets are not destined to cannot remain prey to traffickers of expired or substandard medicines, or a competitive ground for foreign firms alone. The reducing international donor commitments, and recent supply shocks provide ample evidence for why it is time Africa took its destiny into its hands.

“The Africa of the future will not depend on donors for its medicine needs, but on its own internal resources”

Strong political will has already enabled North Africa to set an example. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt cover 60% of their essential medicines needs and now export the medicines they produce including to the highly regulated markets of the west. South Africa has also led the way, developing its local production of cheap generics and creating in Aspen, a top ten global generics player.

Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania… All these countries are developing local production capacities, with Nigeria for example having over one hundred and fifty local manufacturers. Out of 55 countries, Africa has 37 countries with national pharmaceutical industries. It is also worth noting the efforts made by States to establish health insurance systems. From Benin to Tunisia, through Djibouti, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Rwanda, often cited as examples, all these insurance schemes will increase access to medicines.

Much remains to be done, however, across a continent that carries 25% of the global burden of disease, although it represents only 16% of the world’s population. Malaria alone represents a huge public health challenge. It is the deadliest disease in Africa, ahead of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 90% of the 212 million malaria cases recorded in 2015, and 92% of the deaths caused by this pandemic in the same year.

“Bad for business”, as Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), so aptly puts it, and malaria costs Africa $12 billion a year, or 5% or 6% of GDP. Between 70% and 80% of the medicines consumed in Africa are imported, particularly from India and China. Hence the need to invest in local industries to supply a growing market, driven by the demographic boom, and the significant economic progress- the Africa of the future will not depend on donors for its medicine needs, but on its own internal resources. Consequently, it should also be prepared to procure from Africa based companies to create a virtuous cycle of economic development and good health.

Partnerships, including with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS, are essential. Even if the most important partner, in the end, is none other than the African citizen who does not have access to medicines. It is necessary to restore his confidence in local, and not only imported products that are not only accessible, but whose quality is adequately assured by the regulatory authorities.

For this reason, AUDA-NEPAD has published a “model law” on the regulation of medical products to inspire States that do not have or wish to supplement their national pharmaceutical laws. The objective is to establish a national regulatory authority, which can work in tandem with the soon to be established African Medicines Agency (AMA), launched in 2018 to harmonize existing regulations and improve access to safe products.

The Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa (PMPA), led since 2007 by the African Union and partners including UNIDO, UNAIDS, and WHO, also aims to harmonize national policies. This is what the countries of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) undertook in 2013 to create a single market for medicines. A concrete progress towards sub-regional integration, that deserves to be welcomed. The time for Africa to take its destiny in its own hands. That time is now!

 

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