Locals want bigger share of $40bn industry.

Author:Ford, Neil

As in other sectors, Africa is slowly but surely winning the war against disease and ill health but there is still a very long way to go. While scourges like malaria have declined by about a third and the battle against HIV/Aids is gradually being won, too many people continue to die from preventable illnesses and new threats, such as high blood pressure, are making their mark.

The most encouraging trend has been that the cost of drugs has been declining as Africa turns increasingly towards generic drugs and local production. Pharmaceutical spending is expected to reach $40bn by 2020, making Africa an attractive proposition for both local and foreign investment.

The question is: how can local producers carve out a larger slice of the growing pharmaceutical market as the continent continues its march towards a healthier Africa? Report by Neil Ford.

AFRICA HAS LONG STRUGGLED TO FIND ITS PLACE within the global pharmaceutical industry. International drugs manufacturers rely on massive revenues to help fund research and development (R&D), while also generating a profit for their shareholders. Yet, with some notable exceptions, there is a huge mismatch between African medical needs and the continent's ability to pay. Donor support and Asian generic drugs have provided a partial, temporary solution, but a long-term answer must surely be found on the continent itself.

The challenges are obvious. According to World Health Organisation (WHO) figures, sub-Saharan Africa carries 2,4% of the global disease burden, far ahead of its share of global population, with tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria among the main culprits.

HIV/AIDS is more prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa than elsewhere in the world but has affected enough people in the industrialised world to become a magnet for research funding. Anti-retroviral treatment to help combat the effects of HIV is now being distributed more widely in Africa thanks to the supply of lower cost drugs.

It is sad but true that malaria and tuberculosis overwhelmingly affect poorer people and so attract less global R&D. Here too, however, some progress is being made in the fight against malaria thanks to donor funding for solutions that are widely known but which were previously less available.

It is not surprising that international pharmaceutical companies are increasingly looking to Africa to drive their global growth. A combination of economic growth and population increase is creating more consumers with more...

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