Following a discussion on the HHA Community of practice on Pharmaceuticals, Besrat Hagos, PhD (Ms.),  Supply Specialist, UNICEF – Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office, submitted this viewpoint which we cross post on our blog as it is an interesting perspective on the need to develop the pharmaceutical sector in Africa. Feel encouraged to react and share this article within your network. And if you are interested in this debate join the Pharmaceuticals COP on HHA.  

Dear Colleagues,

With the highest HIV/AIDs burden, sub-Saharan Africa is the largest consumer of antiretroviral drugs. Treatment access for HIV / AIDS victims in Africa was significantly improved with the advent of Global Fund,  PEPFAR and other funding mechanisms. This has improved the quality of life of HIV victims and the work on prevention, in particular prevention of Mother-to-Child-Transmission (MTCT) of HIV, has shown remarkable results. Now, we are more optimistic than ever that eliminating MTCT by 2015 is achievable. However, this calls for concerted efforts from governments, partners and the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that there is continuous availability of HIV/AIDS commodities. Unfortunately, donor funds for HIV/AIDS are declining due to the global economic crisis, particularly in the traditional donor countries.

Local production of antiretroviral drugs  is indeed critical to the long-term sustainability of the HIV/AIDS response. However, there is need to explore all avenues to ensure long term sustainability. We need to look for alternative sources and mechanisms to fund HIV/AIDS programmes, and for governments of the affected countries to take greater responsibility through increased allocation of funds within national budgets (including introduction of an HIV levy, as has been successfully implemented in countries such as Zimbabwe), supporting national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in their efforts to mobilize local resources, and encouraging and supporting local pharmaceutical companies to manufacture high quality antiretroviral medicines.

Some countries in sub-Saharan Africa have indeed made good progress in the local production of pharmaceuticals. Currently, four pharmaceutical manufacturing companies in Africa – Universal Corporation Ltd. Kenya, Aspen Pharmacare, South Africa, Quality Chemical Industries Ltd, Uganda and Varichem Pharmaceuticals (pvt) ltd. Zimbabwe – have obtained WHO prequalification to manufacture various antiretrovirals, even though their share in the global market of antiretroviral drugs is not significant.

It is now necessary to provide coordinated support to these and other aspiring local industries to step up their efforts to achieve the quality standard required to scale up the manufacture of antiretrovirals and other critical commodities. In this, governments and partners need to work together and our role as technical experts is to support the process through;

  • Initiating dialogue between governments and aspiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to discuss the options for local production of essential pharmaceuticals in general, and antiretroviral medicines in particular.
  • Encouraging local manufacturers to invest in continuous quality improvement of their facilities and providing technical support for cost-effective use of resources, product development and development of quality assurance systems.
  • Providing national regulatory authorities technical and financial support to enable them to process the registration of pharmaceutical products in an efficient and timely manner, thus reducing the uncertainly of ever reaping the benefits of their investments.
  • Mobilizing resources to support all the above activities.

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