There is an urgent need to develop Africa’s pharmaceutical sector to reduce the continent’s dependence on imported pharmaceutical and medical products.

This is according to the Chief of the Industrialisation and Infrastructure Section of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), Soteri Gatera, who was speaking at a meeting hosted by the ECA, the African Union Commission and the UN Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

Africa bears a disproportionate burden of disease – for example, the continent has more than 70% of the world’s HIV/AIDS cases and 90% of deaths due to malaria. The continent therefore needs to encourage the local production of drugs.

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are also becoming increasingly prominent across the continent given the demographic changes that are taking place. NCDs 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%. The major factor being that Africa is hugely dependent on imported pharmaceutical and medical products.

Foreign dependency

It is estimated that more than 80% of ARVs used on the continent are imported from outside the continent, with 70% 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.

From the health perspective, 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.

A great local market opportunity

The immense need for drugs presents a potential market opportunity for pharmaceutical companies on the continent. For example, 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 could 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 serve as a catalyst to developing a broader manufacturing and knowledge-based economy.

Promoting local production

A number of measures have been taken by the AUC and its partners to promote the manufacture of medicines in Africa in line with the accelerated industrialisation 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.

Soteri Gatera was speaking at a workshop that 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.

According Gatera, it is hoped that 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.

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