THE INFLUX OF INDIAN COMPANIES HAS BEEN VERY WELCOME but it would be better if there were more competition in the sector. The best way to achieve this is surely local production, which would not be affected by deals struck by Delhi.
However, effective operation of the sector is hampered in most parts of Africa by the lack of regulation, R&D and industry experts within government. Capacity building is required across the industry but perhaps nowhere more so than in quality control. Consumers need to trust the efficacy of the drugs that they receive if African pharmaceuticals are not to be seen as second grade.
In the WHO African Region, which excludes North Africa, 37 out of 46 countries have pharmaceutical industries, 34 have secondary level production and 25 have tertiary production. Only one, South Africa, has limited primary production. Nine countries have no production capacity at all.
Self-reliance in local production is a priority in other parts of the world, including Brazil, Morocco and Egypt. It is important to note, however, that no country in the world is entirely self-sufficient in pharmaceuticals.
Drugs have two main components: active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), which provide the medical benefit; and the bulk substance used to make the tablet or liquid, which is used to carry the API. At present, even those African pharmaceutical factories that do exist generally import APIs from elsewhere in the world, and then produce and package medicines in their own plants. Now, however, it is hoped that African factories can begin to produce a far greater proportion of active ingredients themselves.
One analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that pharmaceutical companies sometimes seek to thwart competition by donating medicines or selling them at low cost in key markets. As with food aid, donations made on an ad hoc basis can put local producers out of business, which are then unable to satisfy subsequent demand in later years.
The WHO believes that local production is a key strategy if sustainable, predictable and equitable access to medicines is to be achieved.
The time is certainly right to kick start pharmaceutical manufacturing in sub-Saharan Africa. Poorer countries, including most states in sub-Saharan Africa, are not required to introduce pharmaceutical product patents until 2016 and so can bypass some intellectual property requirements.
Progress is also being made...