For decades, Africa has relied on other countries to provide for the healthcare needs of its population. Over 70 percent of all the medicine needs on the continent are imported, accounting for about $14 billion per year. With the growing burden of diseases on the continent, particularly non-communicable diseases and pandemics, such as COVID-19, the health systems in Africa have come under an immense strain due to its very limited capacity to produce its own medicines and vaccines.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on Africa’s weak health systems, revealing the inadequacies in its pharmaceutical industry, its poor vaccine manufacturing capacity and weak healthcare infrastructure.
This critical situation has in the last few years, drawn significant attention and emphasised the need for collaboration among world-leading organisations like the World Health Organisation, the African Union Commission, the World Trade Organization, the African Development Bank, among others, to provide sustainable interventions for Africa’s healthcare industry.
This critical situation has in the last few years, drawn significant attention and emphasised the need for collaboration among world-leading organisations like the World Health Organisation, the African Union Commission, the World Trade Organization, the African Development Bank, among others
Africa can no longer outsource its healthcare needs and must develop its local capacity to cater for the growing needs of its population. To address this, the African Development Bank has approved the establishment of a landmark institution, the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation, to strengthen the local capacity for manufacturing medicines, vaccines, and other pharmaceutical products.
Challenges confronting Africa’s pharmaceutical industry
Although significant efforts are being made by African countries to increase access to medicines and boost local manufacturing of essential pharmaceutical products, including vaccines, the pharmaceutical industry in Africa is hampered by intellectual property rights protection and patents on technologies, know-how, manufacturing processes and trade secrets.
African pharmaceutical companies lack the negotiation capacity to engage with global pharmaceutical companies and are often marginalized and left behind in complex global pharmaceutical innovations.
A major contributor to this challenge is the absence of an institution in Africa that supports the practical implementation of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) on licensing of proprietary technologies, know-how, and processes. It is to fill this important gap that the African Development Bank has approved the establishment of the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation, an innovative institution that will strengthen Africa’s access to the technologies that support the manufacture of medicines, vaccines, and other pharmaceutical products.
The African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation: Structure and benefits
The African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation will be established in Rwanda under the auspices of the African Development Bank Group, Africa’s premier development finance institution. It will have its own governance and operational structures, operate independently and raise funds from various stakeholders, including governments, development finance institutions, philanthropic organizations, amongst others.
The Foundation will work with African governments, research and development centers of excellence to strengthen innovation in Africa’s pharmaceutical and vaccine ecosystem, and build necessary skills for the revamping of Africa’s pharmaceutical sector and the building of quality healthcare infrastructure.
Upon establishment, the Foundation holds tremendous benefits for Africa. It will serve as a transparent intermediator, advancing and brokering the interests of Africa’s pharmaceutical sector with global pharmaceutical companies to share IP-protected technologies, know-how, and patented processes. Hence, strengthen African pharmaceutical companies to engage in local production initiatives with systematic technology learning and technology upgrading at the plant level.
The Foundation will bring together world-class experts on pharmaceutical innovation and development, intellectual property rights, and health policy. This will help to build professional skills, strengthen the research and development ecosystem, and support the upgrading of manufacturing plant capacities and regulatory quality to meet the standards of the WHO.
The African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation will also play a significant role in addressing the global burden of disease in Africa as it will prioritise technologies, products and processes that focus primarily on diseases that are endemic in Africa, including current and future pandemics.
Working closely with organisations such as the African Union Commission, European Union Commission, the World Health Organization, the Medicines Patent Pool, the World Trade Organization, and other bilateral and multilateral agencies and institutions, the Foundation will foster collaboration between the public and private sectors in developed countries and developing countries.
It is worth mentioning that Bloom Public Health is also contributing significantly to the advancement of the pharmaceutical industry in Nigeria and Africa. Amongst other interventions, one major project is the establishment of Nigeria’s premier pharmaceutical manufacturing park. Pharmacity, as the park is called, will be a compact modern-day pharmaceutical industrial estate that brings together pharmaceutical companies of various sizes, service providers, and companies providing support services to co-locate and share infrastructure.
Ultimately, the transformation of Africa’s health system will require committed collaboration of governments, the private sector, and other stakeholders across national, regional, and continental levels. Given the tremendous benefits of the African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation, all stakeholders must work to ensure its successful establishment and leverage on the opportunities it provides to revolutionise Africa’s pharmaceutical industry.
Anyakora is the CEO of Bloom Public Health and a public health expert &
Odibeli is a pharmacist and the research and communications coordinator at Bloom Public Health