Africa has exhibited tremendous economic growth in the recent past, and currently contributes 3% of the global gross domestic product (GDP). Along this growth has been an increase in population growth, which undisputedly has seen increased spending as well as a rocketing medical budget. Africa can also be described to be a continent with a genesis of pharmaceutical production tracking back to the 1930s, based on the availability of traditional medicines to which users have better access especially in the rural areas, compared to international brands. However, Africa’s potential to produce pharmaceutical products has been globally questionable and unexplored for decades.
Can and Should Africa Manufacture Pharmaceutical products?
This question took the Centre stage during a seminar organized and held by The Scinnovent Centre on 16 May 2014. Presented by Dr. Geoff Banda from The Open University in the United Kingdom, the seminar focused on the potential of Africa in pharmaceutical production, and highlighted the gaps that need to be addressed in order for this potential to be reached.
Attended by eighteen participants drawn from a mixture of backgrounds ranging including seasoned medical researchers from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), scientists and economists form the Kenya Industrial Research Development Institute (KIRDI) and the National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI), the seminar highlighted the need to link health systems in order to strengthen local pharmaceutical production. While delivering his presentation, Dr. Banda stated that while Africa is home to 14% of the world’s population, it produces only about 25 to 30% of its medicine, and 77% of Africans still lack access to treatment.
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Despite the potential that Africa holds in pharmaceutical production notwithstanding from traditional medicines as a starting point, this is insufficiently explored and underdeveloped. The discussions from the seminar highlighted some six unexplored issues as among those dragging the process:
i. Adoption of global health policies that tend to overlook local needs and potential
ii. Health systems lacking a link to local production
iii. Financial incapability of industries
iv. Overdependence on India and China for Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) sources increasing production costs
v. Industrial production policies which although inter-dependent with other policies, do not interact
vi. An oversight on local production of drugs as a national security issue
Dr. Banda emphasized that for success in this industry, Africa should consider some key factors when developing local pharmaceutical products. He asserted that use of the ‘block buster business model’ has been failing for Europe and America, and Africa should therefore consider adapting generic drugs model and generate its own APIs using available technology to lower cost. He further mentioned that at government level, procurement should be used as an asset and multiple regulatory accreditations should be scrapped out to avoid high costs of inspections and instead strengthen local regulatory boards /agencies and accredit their institutions and personnel.
Finance has been a major impediment for most industrial innovations to go large-scale. From the seminar, it was underscored that for African pharmaceutical production to be a reality, the financing capability of industries should be enhanced by building the capacity of the players (borrowers) to know their investments, production and linkage capabilities as well as financial capabilities. This way, they will know what type of financial product to go for, why, who to go to, how to negotiate on interest rates, which type of money is needed for what type of phase.
Need for favorable industrial policies
The need for favorable policies featured during the seminar, with the presenter asserting that bringing together industrial, health, finance and infrastructure in policy and practice will improve coherence. The use of network capabilities both formal and informal networks will also leverage local health. As industrial policies are deemed to favor upcoming industries, African governments should focus on these instead of blindly adopting maintenance policies from developed countries.
The focus on anti-infective drug policies is not as beneficial since the burden of non- communicable diseases has exceeded communicable diseases. Adaption of projector policies should be done using foresight analysis to avoid future shocks and surprises~ Dr. Geoff Banda.
Article received contribution from Belinda Makadia- The Scinnovent Centre