UN agency calls for Africa’s pharmaceutical development

There is an urgent need to develop the pharmaceutical industry in Africa to reduce the continent’s dependence on imported pharmaceutical and medical products, says UN Economic Commission for Africa’s Soteri Gatera.

Mr. Gatera, Chief of the Industrialization and Infrastructure Section at the ECA, says Africa bears a disproportionate burden of disease with, for example, more than 70 percent of the world’s HIV/AIDS cases and 90 percent of deaths due to malaria raising the need to encourage local production of drugs.

“Non-communicable diseases are also becoming increasingly prominent across the continent given the demographic changes that are taking place,” he told participants in the meeting hosted by the ECA, the African Union Commission and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Non-communicable diseases are predicted to overtake infectious diseases as the leading causes of death in Africa by 2030.

The situation is worsened by the continent’s significant challenges in accessing high-quality pharmaceuticals, exacerbating a continued high burden of disease.

The availability of essential drugs in the public sector across the continent has been reported to be less than 60 percent.  The major factor being that Africa is hugely dependent on imported pharmaceutical and medical products.

It is estimated that more than 80 percent of ARVs used on the continent are imported from outside the continent with 70 percent of the pharmaceutical and medical products market being served by foreign imports.

“An international standard, commercially viable pharmaceutical industry in Africa can contribute to improved access to effective, safe and affordable essential medicines and economic development,” said Mr. Soteri.

From the health perspective, he added, a key potential benefit is to develop a source of quality assured medicines across products including those for the pandemic diseases (HIV, TB and malaria) as well as the broader range of essential medicines.

Through proximity of production, resource-constrained regulators can properly oversee the manufacturing of products produced in the region compared to the level of scrutiny that is possible for distant suppliers, said Mr. Soteri.

The immense need for drugs presents a potential market opportunity for pharmaceutical companies on the continent.

For example, he said, the current number of persons on ARV treatment on the continent represents a market opportunity of over US$ 1 billion.

This market will more than treble over the next decade as more people are placed on ARV treatment and other uses of ARVs are expanded.

The total pharmaceutical spending for the continent in 2012 was estimated at US$ 18 billion and it is projected to reach US$ 45 billion by 2020.

In addition to providing a secure source of medicines and a potentially large market, local production of pharmaceuticals also:

* advance industrial development,

* move the continent towards sustainability of the health sector response,

*reduce external dependency,

*facilitate stronger regulatory oversight to curtail counterfeit products,

*enable production of drugs for diseases that primarily affect Africa,

*improve the trade balance,

*create jobs

*and could serve as a catalyst to developing a broader manufacturing and knowledge-based economy.

Mr. Soteri also enunciated a number of measures taken by the AUC and its partners to promote the manufacture of medicines in Africa in line with the accelerated industrialization initiative for the continent’s socio-economic transformation.

“The untapped opportunities lend themselves to a wide array of partnerships for the promotion of inclusive and sustainable industrial development. The partnerships would create higher-skilled jobs, build equitable societies and safeguard the environment, while sustaining economic growth,” he said.

The workshop sought to validate an ECA report titled; “Review of Policies and Strategies for the Pharmaceutical Production Sector in Africa: Policy coherence, best practices and future prospective” in which policies and strategies for the pharmaceutical sector in Africa are reviewed with a view to assess the level of policy coherence, capturing best practices and painting future prospects for the sector.

The report provides an overview of the status of pharmaceutical production in Africa and identifies levels and quality of production on the continent.

It is hoped, the final knowledge product will influence African governments to take appropriate actions that will transform the sector from being a coffer-drainer to a substantive contributor to Africa’s GDP, said Mr. Soteri.