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Keeping tabs on pharma: Push for Africa to localize its pharmaceutical development

The dependence on imported pharmaceuticals across Africa has left populations across the continent vulnerable to shortages of medication.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to notable negative effects in the delivery of essential health services in Kenya. Similarly, South Africa has experienced a shortage of mental health medication and contraceptives as the coronavirus outbreak disrupted manufacturing and imports, and stocks of treatments to manage chronic illnesses, including HIV medicines, have dipped critically low in Nigeria.

The World Economic Forum reported that in most of sub-Saharan Africa, pharmaceutical imports comprise as much as 70 to 90 per cent of drugs consumed.

In an effort to address Africa’s overreliance on pharmaceutical imports, the African Union Development Agency (AUDA) developed the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa (PMPA) in 2005 which spoke to the critical challenges of boosting local drug production in Africa. The PMPA business plan strongly encouraged the procurement of medical products from African-based companies. 

To help the PMPA plan succeeds, in June 2021, the AUDA launched the Africa Medical Supplies Platform, which looks to promote the procurement of medical products from local manufacturers and streamline the intentions detailed in PMPA.

What big pharma is doing to support vaccine production in Africa

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced plans to make South Africa home to the continent’s first Covid-19 vaccine production facility. The pandemic has underscored the importance of having fast and continued access to medicines.

Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at WHO, told Health Policy Watch that WHO was in discussions with larger pharma companies, because the speed at which the new Covid-19 hub in South Africa may be able to swing into full-scale vaccine production depends on whether pharmaceutical companies with proven mRNA vaccines will commit to supporting the initiative.

“If big pharma partners come forward, vaccines could be produced in South Africa within nine to 12 months,” Swaminathan declared.

Kate Stegeman, advocacy coordinator for the nonprofit Doctors Without Borders, highlighted that Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech are among the key players to share their mRNA technology with the South African Covid-19 hub, so that many more mRNA vaccines can be produced independently by manufacturers in South Africa and more broadly across the African continent.

Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, commented: “The [Covid-19] hub is a landmark initiative that will put Africa on a path to self-determination.

“We just cannot continue to rely on vaccines that are made outside of Africa because they never come. They never arrive on time and people continue to die.”

If you missed last week’s Keeping tabs on Covid-19 update, dive into it here or head to Pharma IQ’s content hub to discover all the Keeping tab features.

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