BusinessDay

Innovative strategies to build a competent workforce in African pharmaceutical industry

The realization of the right to healthcare and access to medicines in Africa is contingent on adequate empowerment of the pharmaceutical workforce.

The last few years have emphasized the need for Africa to build a globally competitive pharmaceutical manufacturing industry that can supply most of its requirements for cost-effective high-quality medicines.

However, the potentials of the pharmaceutical industry can only be realised with a strong and well-skilled human capital base.

Unfortunately, in Africa, the current workforce situation of the pharmaceutical industry is very precarious, with a scarcity of trained personnel and competent cadre to provide the needed workforce to support its growth.

Most African pharmaceutical companies have resorted to sourcing personnel from Asia, particularly India, through individual efforts by the companies and their India partners.

Sadly, this approach cannot achieve the critical mass of well-trained industrial pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists, and engineers on the continent needed to provide a competent workforce in the pharmaceutical industry.

The pharma industry, being a highly regulated environment, warrants special skills and know-how that are unfortunately not taught in academic settings

There is therefore an urgent need for the development and implementation of coherent, evidence-based, and demand-driven skills development strategies for Africa’s pharma sector.

Challenges impeding the workforce capacity in Africa’s pharma industry

One critical challenge limiting the workforce capacity of the pharmaceutical industry in Africa is the ill-preparedness of pharmacy graduates for pharmaceutical manufacturing.

The pharma industry, being a highly regulated environment, warrants special skills and know-how that are unfortunately not taught in academic settings.

The pharmaceutical industry often resorts to hiring unskilled graduates who would end up going through a steep learning curve before they are productive in various disciplines within the industry.

Sometimes, as newly trained staff gain relevant skills, they are poached by other companies, thus discouraging companies from training newly employed staff.

Another challenge limiting the availability of skilled personnel in the pharmaceutical industry is the problem of brain-drain, which is encouraged by factors such as poor levels of compensation/benefits and restricted opportunities for career development, amongst others.

Strategies to build a competent workforce in Africa’s pharma industry

Africa has the aspiration of making quality medicines available to its population. However, this aspiration is limited by the paucity of the workforce with expertise in regulatory science and quality assurance of medicines.

To address the situation, there is a need for a well-crafted strategy for developing local expertise that will lead to the manufacture of quality assured medicines now and in the future and also develop professionals who can regulate pharmaceutical quality in Africa.

Professional associations, academia, regulatory authorities, and other critical stakeholders need to collaborate to make this a reality. Innovative strategies that can be explored include:

1. The establishment of an African Pharmaceutical Academy: Bloom Public Health strongly proposes to establish a pharmaceutical training academy that will deliver training to new graduates in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The training will be tailored to the needs of the industry and will aim to impact needed skills and expertise relevant to the pharmaceutical industry.

Areas that the academy will cover include factory design, quality assurance and quality control, regulatory sciences, pharmaceutical production, microbiology, pharma engineering for qualification of equipment, and preventive maintenance and calibration of equipment, amongst others.

Training new graduates to prepare them for the industry will create a large pipeline of an employable workforce that will serve the industry sustainably.

The industry will benefit from tapping into a ready skilled workforce that will be productive immediately and obviate the need for enormous investment in training newly hired graduates who may not stay after they have received training.

Bloom Public Health is actively working to engage relevant stakeholders and deploy strategic partnerships to achieve the establishment of this academy.

Read also: African Pharmaceutical Technology Foundation, others: Opportunities local African pharmas should not let go

2. Strengthening the teaching capability of academic institutions by allowing dual appointments: There are considerable shortages of skilled academics with prior exposure to the pharmaceutical industry. This should be addressed by allowing the placements of academics in industry and providing a platform for industry experts to spend time in academia. This will facilitate knowledge transfer to students, enabling them to be ready for their critical roles in the industry.

3. Review of the current pharmacy curriculum to make it more relevant to current industry needs: The level of regulation the pharmaceutical industry warrants requires graduates with an appreciation for and understanding of quality systems. There is an urgent need for a curriculum review.

Topics that encourage hands on experience should be introduced to make the graduates ready upon graduation to play a role in the industry. Importantly, pharmacy schools should be assisted to have their own in-house mini manufacturing units for hands-on teaching lessons.

The role of the academia in this effort cannot be overemphasized. Although this is a multidisciplinary effort, pharmacy schools should be the drivers of this effort and encourage other disciplines like engineering and physical sciences to do the same.

Conclusion

Although the challenges confronting Africa’s pharmaceutical industry are multifaceted, building a competent workforce that can sustainably support the industry will be a major step towards increasing local pharma manufacturing, and achieving self-reliance in the pharma sector.

Anyakora is the CEO of Bloom Public Health and a public health expert & Odibeli is a pharmacist and the regional communications manager at Bloom Public Health

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