The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) says there is an urgent need to develop the pharmaceutical sector in Africa to reduce the continent’s dependence on imported pharmaceutical and medical products.
Mr Soteri Gatera, the ECA’s Chief of Industrialisation and Infrastructure Section, said this in a statement posted on its website on Wednesday.
Gatera spoke in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at a meeting hosted by the ECA, the African Union Commission (AUC) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
He said Africa bore disproportionate burden of disease with, for example, more than 70 per cent of the world’s HIV/AIDS cases and 90 per cent 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 said that non-communicable diseases were predicted to overtake infectious diseases as the leading causes of death in Africa by 2030.
According to him, the situation is made worse by the continent’s significant challenges in accessing high-quality pharmaceuticals, exacerbating a continued high burden of disease.
Gatera also said that the availability of essential drugs in the public sector across the continent had been reported to be less than 60 per cent.
“The major factor being that Africa is hugely dependent on imported pharmaceutical and medical products.
“It is estimated that more than 80 per cent of Anti-Retrovirals (ARVs) used on the continent are imported from outside the continent with 70 per cent 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”, he said.
Gatera said that from the health perspective, a key potential benefit was to develop a source of quality assured medicines across products including those for the pandemic diseases (HIV, Tuberculosis and malaria) and the broader range of essential medicines.
He said that through proximity of production, resource-constrained regulators could properly oversee the manufacturing of products produced in the region compared to the level of scrutiny possible for distant suppliers.
According to Gatera, 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 one billion dollars.
“This market will more than triple 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 18 billion dollars and it is projected to reach 45 billion dollars by 2020.”
Gatera said that in addition to providing a secure source of medicines and a potentially large market, local production of pharmaceuticals also advance industrial development and move the continent towards sustainability of the health sector response.
Other advantages are reduced external dependency, facilitation of stronger regulatory oversight to curtail counterfeit products, job creation and improved trade balance.
He said it also enabled production of drugs for diseases that primarily affected Africa and could serve as a catalyst to developing a broader manufacturing and knowledge-based economy.
He said some measures had 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,” he said.
According to the statement, the workshop seeks 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.”
The 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.