The COVID-19 pandemic delivered a painful lesson on the need to strengthen health security and build resilient health systems to reduce Africa’s, and indeed the world’s, vulnerability to disease outbreaks and epidemics. The pandemic showed that a self-reliant pharmaceutical industry is critical for both pandemic preparedness and response. Reducing overreliance on imports and localizing pharma manufacturing in Africa would mitigate risks of supply chain disruption, accelerate priority vaccine access, and generate substantial economic impact.
To this end, concerted efforts are being made by the Africa CDC to develop a strategic roadmap with an emphasis on building self-reliance in Africa’s vaccine and pharmaceutical manufacturing industries. However, real advancement requires strong partnerships between governments, international and multilateral organizations, and private sector engagement.
Strategic partnerships that leverage the strengths of each player are essential to implementing innovative solutions that tackle the existing challenges in the pharmaceutical industry in Africa. Sustainable and transformational change can only be achieved through the coordinated efforts of local and international stakeholders.
Partnership models to strengthen Africa’s pharmaceutical industry
Faced with the urgent need to tackle the plethora of public health challenges on the continent and progress towards universal health coverage, African governments are recognizing the critical need to rethink healthcare partnerships in Africa. Evidently, building health systems that are resilient, equitable, data-driven, and of high quality cannot be achieved by the government in isolation. There is a need to harness the strengths of various partnership models, including public-private partnerships (PPPs).
In view of these, Bloom Public Health recommends the following partnership models as viable pathways to building a sustainable pharmaceutical industry in Africa:
1. Public-private partnerships (PPPs): In many African countries, the private sector is emerging as a dominant and preferred health service provider. The private sector often has the innovative business knowledge, discipline, and technical capability to properly execute projects, while the public sector owns the processes, licenses, and pathways through which the projects can function.
Harnessing the strengths of the two sectors is therefore important. PPPs can complement government efforts and achievements by improving project selection, enabling organizational efficiencies, and enhancing the value for money of infrastructure and service delivery in the healthcare sector.
An outstanding public-private partnership model in the pharmaceutical sector is the partnership between Nigeria’s National Institute for Pharmaceutical Research and Development (NIPRD) and Bloom Public Health. NIPRD and Bloom Public Health, in a World Bank-funded initiative, have recently launched the Nigerian Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Quality Improvement and Capacity Building Programme. This programme will provide a road map for indigenous manufacturers to achieve WHO prequalification, thereby positioning Nigeria and the continent to compete globally.
2. South-South Cooperation (SSC): Countries within the Global South have similarities in their socioeconomic, cultural, and public health contexts. Across the region, many different approaches have been tried over the years, with varying degrees of success. A vast body of knowledge exists on what works and what does not, based on local experiences.
Africa can take full advantage of this by strengthening its partnerships and collaborations across the region. SSC holds significant benefits for the pharmaceutical and public health sectors in Africa, as it can build strong regional networks for sharing practical experiences and knowledge and supporting capacity building among African countries.
Bloom Public Health, a thought leader in Africa’s public health sector, has been actively facilitating SSC in Africa. In 2022, Bloom Public Health brokered a strategic meeting between the Director-General of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) in Pakistan and the Director-General of the National Drug Quality Control and Valuation Laboratory (LANACOME) in Cameroon.
Building on this, an MOU between DRAP, Pakistan, and LANACOME, Cameroon, that will allow for long-term exchange of technology, knowledge, and skills for the strengthening of Cameroon’s public health sector, has been finalized.
3. Global partnerships: For decades, billions of dollars’ worth of medicines have been shipped to Africa for various public health interventions. An African-led intervention would have created the possibility of local production through strategic investments. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a growing recognition of the need to leverage respectful, action-oriented, and sustainable global partnerships that promote country ownership and African health priorities.
Country ownership of health systems and a more rapid and sustainable development in Africa’s public health sector require an African- or locally-led approach that relies on existing national and regional capabilities and jointly beneficial global partnerships.
Hence, African governments must make concerted efforts to build strategic global partnerships, while ensuring that globally funded health interventions align with the strategic priorities of the continent and contribute more meaningfully to the advancement of public health.
Several challenges limit the development of successful partnerships in Africa’s health sector. Pitfalls such as poor coordination, inadequate political commitment, a lack of conducive policy environments, and inadequate financing mechanisms present major dilemmas for the development of sustainable partnerships in Africa.
To address these challenges, relevant stakeholders, including government policymakers and their development partners, need to design and implement sustainable policies and systematic approaches that facilitate and optimize healthcare partnerships in Africa, thus enabling Africa to maximize its partnerships and the opportunities they provide to leapfrog towards a more sustainable healthcare system