African industries seek support to boost capacity for essential medicines production

African pharmaceutical manufacturers have urged international organisations and governments in Africa to support their production by strengthening their capacity to meet the  local medicine needs in their region. 
They made the call during the virtual first international Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA2021), hosted by the African Union (AU) and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
The conference which was held from December 14 to 16, brought together over 140 African policymakers, scientists, public health and data experts as well as civil society representatives, who presented the latest lessons and research from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Against the background of the terrific disruption in drug supply and distribution chain arising from the COVID-19 pandemic all support is needed especially from organisations such as the Global Fund to help build local capacity to deliver essential medicines and to prepare for future pandemics, said Dr. Stella Okoli, founder and group managing director of Emzor Pharmaceutical Industries Limited, an indigenous Nigerian company with over 1,000 employees, producing and marketing over 200 pharmaceutical products across 26 pharmaceutical categories. 
Speaking under the topic ‘Strengthening Innovation Capacity,’ Okoli said local manufacturing industries would like to be empowered and that a lot of people could benefit from production. “Without government support and the support of organisations like the Global Funds it is not going to be easy for us.”
While giving assurance that African industries would do their best to utilise the assistance, she said local industries were still not perfect yet though the demand for drugs in Africa has increased considerably over the years because of the rise in disease outbreaks, adding that non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and cancers are on the increase.
However, Okoli said, “We are ready for the support; there are many other young industries that are ready and waiting for support.” We cannot support ourselves, she added. 
She explained that funding support will go a long way to improve the quality of products and services available in the continent.
 However, not being able to produce vaccines domestically is  a cause of great concern to both local and international partners.  The main reason for this is that the continent does not have enough production capacity to cater for its own needs and this has become evident in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Therefore, investing in preparedness for the next wave of the pandemic is a  good line of action, Okoli said.
On her part, the Executive Secretary, African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), Joy Phumaphi said, “There is a growing awareness amongst the governments in Africa to improve  pharmaceuticals by increasing the industry, vaccine companies and encouraging intellectual transfer for producing vaccines.”
Hence, getting compounds for the production of pharmaceutical vaccines can be boosted.
Similarly, she urged the African governments to negotiate for softer loans and grants. “So we have to involve development banks more. Governments need to support research in the public health institution not just to develop skills but to make sure that there is stronger attention in training and cross pollination between the north and the south; everyone will benefit.
There is no reason Africa can not do Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) but it has to be pushed by public health, said Phumaphi who is also the co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Independent Accountability Panel for Every Woman, Every Child, Every Adolescent.
“There is a need to focus on data and research evidence, a culture adopted by the service industries including the agricultural sector so this can actually help to fill the gap in production and the quality of products.”
Phumaphi stressed that regulatory and policy area have to be strengthened for harmonised drug development and  pre-qualification process.
 “This is an area where the Africa CDC and the institutions that have been created on pharmaceuticals and drugs are supposed to  address.
She also called on African countries to support this process and create policy friendly environment that makes fertile the development of drugs. 
While calling on the various African countries to  upgrade the standards of manufacturers, Phumaphi said, there is a lot that can be done. We just need to work together with the manufacturers and development partners like the Global Fund.”
Similarly, there is connection between local production and access to medicine as seen in malaria disease whereby access to medicine for malaria over a 20 year period was facilitated by international organisations, said John Fairhurst who leads work to engage the private sector in supporting the Global Funds mission to eliminate HIV, Malaria and tuberculosis (TB). 
According to Fairhurst, a lot of the push to bring in new products, to educate and train health workers and bring them into a policy framework was driven by multinationals. “There was a long dry spell of lack of new development in malaria medicine; so, when a few multinationals started to invest in innovation for a while it seemed like there were international companies driving most of the adoption.”
 Consequently,  in the last decade we have seen more companies in Africa making quality antimalarials, he noted, adding that there is synergy between local production, local distribution and local access to medicines.——————–END




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