By: Dr. Margaret Agama-Anyetei: Head, Health Nutrition and Population, African Union Commission, Department of Social Affairs

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a number of shortcomings in securing critical medical supplies in many African countries. Global competition and inaccessibility coupled with the increase in export restrictions has contributed to critical shortages of these lifesaving supplies.  This notwithstanding, most African countries still face limitations of access due to inadequate funding.

Recognizing this challenge, in 2011 the African Union’s Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Plan for Africa (PMPA) was established to develop the African pharmaceutical industry (Assembly/AU/Dec.55(IV), a sector with considerable potential for reducing the burden of disease in Africa. With a projected value of over US$40 billion by the next decade, the sector will also contribute significantly to economic growth.

A business plan for implementing the plan was developed and considerable progress has been recorded including the establishment of initiatives to harmonize medicine regulation on the continent [Assembly/AU/DEC-413(XVIII)], addressing human capacity and skills shortages, and promoting cooperation and advocacy in the industry. The optimism in the sector has also galvanized countries and regions with manufacturing capacity to harness support for the development of the sector despite the funding challenges.

In this regard, in 2018, the African Union Specialized Technical Committee on Health, Population and Drug Control established the fund for African Pharmaceutical Development (FAP-D), as a specific financing facility for the sector (EX.CL/Dec.970 (XXXI). The value of a strengthened pharmaceutical industry for and across Africa will contribute significantly, to improved access to quality assured, affordable, safe and efficacious essential medicines and new medicines for African citizens. Enhancing standards of production is central to improved access to quality assured medicines.

Implementing this agenda will make an impact through establishing a source of supply of high-quality pharmaceuticals across the Essential Medicines List that highly resource constrained National Regulatory Authorities can effectively oversee. In addition, local manufacturing will contribute to producing critical medicines available during health emergencies thus contributing to health security and safety at all times.

The purpose of a fund for the Pharmaceutical industry would be to provide affordable financing to the industry in the form of low interest rate loans.  For efficient implementation of the PMPA, long-term support for the development of indigenous African medicines as well as complementing the financing with technical advisory services is imperative.

Equally important, the establishment of the FAP-D requires bilateral and multilateral support from financial institutions coupled with access to innovative financing, technology and innovation from the private sector.

There has been a number of different initiatives to support African countries and Regional Economic Communities to develop and implement strategies for the strengthening of pharmaceutical manufacturing industries. For example, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has developed the ECOWAS Regional Pharmaceutical Plan with support from UNAIDS.  WHO supported the Ethiopian Government to develop its National Strategy and Plan of Action for development of the county’s pharmaceutical industry. United States Pharmacopeia Convention (USP) which has supported regulatory capacity building has also established its Centre for Pharmaceutical Advancement and Training (CePAT) in Ghana to develop the human resources required by the industry and regulators.

The challenge of inadequate and unsustainable funding mechanism places current continental initiatives and accompanying strategic plans at a risk of failing, particularly efforts to adopt international standards of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and building capacity in pharmaceutical manufacturing in Africa. To improve this, relies on the type of funding mechanism, new funding sources and replenishment plans, criteria for equitable access and the contextual incentive framework that will support effective and efficient utilization of the funds.

African countries need to rapidly adopt the African Union industrial development strategies in support of the pharmaceutical production. The development of a robust pharmaceutical sector is a catalyst for accelerating economic transformation in Africa in the realisation of agenda 2063.