Pharmaceutical Manufacturing in Africa: What are the Knowledge Gaps and Emerging Research Issues?

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There has been significant progress in strengthening pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity as a driver of socio-economic and industrial development in Africa. There is also a massive opportunity for increasing this capacity including a rejuvenated economic performance, a growing middle-class economy, a youthful population and political support for local pharmaceutical manufacturing.

As local manufacturing is gaining momentum in Africa with new actors entering the manufacturing scene, others are exiting due to challenges such as competition, unfavorable working conditions or inability to penetrate the market. The question remains: how can Africa manufacture pharmaceutical products more competitively to address the issue of access to medicines and social inclusion? Africa local pharmaceutical production accounts for only 30 percent of the local demand, and this implies that there is a large volume of underutilized manufacturing capacity which could be applied to produce new products upon demand.

A Scinnovent Centre study investigated how local pharmaceutical production can translate to increased access to affordable, high-quality medicines to those who need it the most.

According to Dr. Maurice Bolo, Scinnovent Center’s Director and lead author of the project, there’s a lot of political support and will at the highest level of African governments towards local pharmaceutical production.

Dr. Bolo notes that regardless of primary will and support, there are people who still doubt whether Africa should be worrying about producing its own medicines or just get readily manufactured medicines from the west.

“Even though there is political will at the highest level of governments in Africa that is not being translated quickly into action, so it’s more of rhetoric than quick action in the ground that is going to help our companies to move quickly.”He added.

The study revealed that to become globally competitive, research on local pharma manufacturing should address three major areas;

  • Research, innovation and skills development that will ensure that talents are nurtured and promote scientific research excellence in the continent.
  • Financing, upgrading, and utilization for long term investment in technology upgrading.
  • Intellectual property rights and technology transfer where developed countries are encouraged to provide industry incentives for pharmaceutical technology transfer and capacity building in developing countries.

The study further notes that insufficient support to industries poses insignificant challenges for the African pharmaceutical sector. This includes lack of laboratories that can perform bio-equivalence studies which tend to be very costly in foreign laboratories and out of reach of the local pharmaceutical companies.

Another critical challenge facing local pharmaceutical manufacturers is under-investments and under-resourced public health systems. Counterfeit drugs which tend to increase the cost of genuine drugs are also a huge impediment.

Cross-continent learning

African countries can leverage its diaspora in Asia to support the local pharmaceutical manufacturing sector by establishing incentive and reward structures to attract and retain talent; forging partnerships with knowledge institutions and research networks such as universities and specialized laboratories to support local pharmaceutical industries.

The study, according to Dr. Bolo, has had positive impacts as it has been presented at major pharmaceutical conferences happening in the continent and people have taken up the recommendations. Local industries have also taken the recommendations and used to engage with the government in terms of advocating for various policy positions.

There’s an impact in terms of the uptake of some of the ideas that the study recommended and we can also see that the research agenda highlighted by the study is informing further work in the continent in this area. Local pharmaceutical industries should be provided with the right incentives and the right environment to enable them to thrive”. Dr. Bolo notes

The study further suggests the need for collaborations among African governments to allow for technological transfer through the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) that have certain flexibilities that can give opportunities for growth at the national level.

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