UNCTAD to discuss fostering drug manufacturing in Africa

By Gareth Macdonald

- Last updated on GMT

Next month the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) will organise a meeting to discuss ways of encouraging the production of pharmaceutical in Africa.

The "International Conference on Local Pharmaceutical production in Africa​" event, will provide a forum at which pharma companies, associations and health ministries can examine drugmaking in the continent and work to reduce dependence on foreign production.

in-Pharmatechnologist.com spoke with UNCTAD legal expert Christoph Spennemann who explained that local manufacturing will help improve the lives of the millions of patients across Africa who lack health insurance and public health provision.

Currently almost two billion people lack access to medicines in developing countries [and although] it is true that the major pharmaceutical companies are making laudable efforts [but] the problem remains​.”

Spennemann also suggested that the recent introduction of pharmaceutical patent protection in India, which is still the major exporter of drugs to Africa, could result in higher prices for essential medicines such as ARVs and malaria treatments.

India may become less important as a source of affordable drugs and that is one of the reasons why some African countries re looking into the possibility of producing drugs locally​.”

Quality is the key

The biggest manufacturing challenge, Spennemann continued, is ensuring the quality of drugs that are produced.

“Producing drugs is not a simple thing… you really need pharmaceutical experts and in many developing countries including some in Africa this expertise is missing.”

He went on to explain that this is a product of a number of factors including the lack of high quality education, the lack of links between universities and industry as well as deficiencies at the regulatory level in some countries that are impeding approvals.

The next problem that local manufacturers face is price. It is very difficult for local manufacturers to undercut the low prices that Indian and Chinese producers are able to offer [as a result of their economies of scale].”

Future

Despite these difficulties, efforts are underway to improve Africa’s manufacturing infrastructure according to Spennemann who cited attempts to create an East Africa common market as an examples of the positive steps being taken.

Additionally​, “ he continued “R&D-based companies are beginning to realise that some at least some of the bigger countries in Africa have some potential​” through licensing agreements with local manufacturers.

However, for smaller African countries the picture is somewhat different according to Spenneman, who said that most of these markets continue to be dominated by generic manufacturers.

The "International Conference on Local Pharmaceutical production in Africa​" event, which is sponsored by the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, will take place on April 4-6 at the Strand Towers Hotel in South Africa.

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