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Africa urged to increase pharmaceutical manufacturing as cost of medicines and medical equipment imports rises

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African countries are spending large sums of money to import medicines and medical equipment, while populations on the continent continue to die from preventable diseases. African countries have therefore been called upon to increase the production of medicines and medical equipment on the continent.

“We are losing too many children to diseases due to lack of vaccines, which could be manufactured in Africa, UN Under-Secretary-General and Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe said at the Africa Investment Summit on Health (AIS) held on the sidelines of the 76th United Nations General Assembly  September 20.

She explained that manufacturing vaccines on the continent will save lives and ensure that more children go to school every day and grow healthy.

She also indicated that there are enormous business opportunities in Africa’s healthcare market.

“Imports of medicines and medical equipment rose from $4.2 billion in 1998 to $20 billion in 2018 for example. Africa’s private sector can and should be a part of Africa’s health security solution. This will create jobs, build capacity, grow imports and potentially reduce health care costs.”

In his remarks, Aigboje Aig–Imoukhuede, Chairman of African Business Coalition for Health (ABCHealth), said the West Africa AfCFTA-anchored Pharmaceutical Initiative, is designed to foster local production of drugs and medical equipment in West Africa and ultimately the rest of the continent, drawing on the lessons of the parent AfCFTA-anchored Pharmaceutical Initiative.

He noted that the initiative will provide a Centralised Pooled Procurement Mechanism (CPPM) and showcase health business opportunities for private sector investment that will – in the long run – create jobs, save cost and productivity gains for sustainable and inclusive development in Africa.

Monique Msanzabaganwa, Vice Chairperson of the African Union Commission, described the COVID-19 pandemic as a “challenge and a learning opportunity” for the continent.  She highlighted the need for African countries to commit to fulfilling their pledge of allocating 15 per cent of their budgets to health.

Ibrahim Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) said in 2012, Africa Member States endorsed the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa (PMPA) to ensure self-reliance for access to essential, safe and quality and affordable pharmaceuticals across all essential medicines and contribute to improved health outcomes.

He noted, however, that challenges such as access to affordable capital for manufacturers, access to technology and know-how, access to market, policy regulations, and investment in intellectual property, must first be addressed.

Dr. Nkengasong said initiatives like the Partnership for Africa Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) should be encouraged, adding “We are calling for new funding models that are coordinated and aligned with the continental aspirations on local vaccine manufacturing.”

Dr. Roger Glass, Director of the Fogarty International Center and Associate Director for Global Health at the National Health Institute (NHI) said partnership with Africa is of utmost importance to the NHI.

“South-South partnerships have to be encouraged around Africa, but we also need North-South partnerships to bring some of the newest technologies and see how they could be adapted locally.”

He highlighted the need to “get Africa’s diaspora scientists engaged back in the continent,” given their understanding of the landscape and “sensitivity to local needs,” citing Africa CDC director, Dr Nkengasong, as a good example in this regard.

Representing the voice of African youth , Nigeria’s Dr Chiamaka Nwachukwu called for a “shift from the conversation where young people are seen as leaders of tomorrow and heirs of existing structures” to one where we see them as “collaborators and co-owners in the present.”

The summit also announced that East Africa’s Biodeal Laboratories had won a bid to receive investment and Good Manufacturing Practice support to manufacture MNCH products under the AfCFTA-anchored Pharma Initiative that had previously been launched in East and Southern Africa countries including small Island States.

The Summit was convened by the ECA, the ABCHealth and the NIH to discuss strategies that will significantly increase access to vital health commodities and supplies in Africa, leveraging the AfCFTA and African Medicines Agency (AMA).

Stakeholders at the summit agreed that there is a necessity to boost Africa’s capacity to manufacture pharmaceutical products that are of quality, safe and internationally recognized to prepare for future pandemics, while creating jobs for young Africans.

The summit brought together businesses, development institutions and philanthropists to catalyze substantial investment in African pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity, towards significantly increasing access to vital health commodities and supplies in Africa and beyond.

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